Saying was “distressing” to note that a film could not be released “because of continued threats”, the Bombay High Court on Thursday said India was cutting a “very sorry figure” as people could not “voice their opinions”. The division bench of Justices S C Dharmadhikari and Bharti Dangre was referring to Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Padmavati.
“Here, we have a situation in which a chief minister says he will not allow the film to be released. Tomorrow, people will not be able to convene meetings and express their views,” said Justice Dharmadhikari. The court said this is censorship of a different kind which is damaging the country’s image. “In which other countries are artists and performers threatened? It is distressing to know that a person makes a feature film and several people work tirelessly towards it, but (he) is not able to release the film because of continued threats. What have we come to?” said the bench.
Referring to the threats received by Deepika Padukone, the lead actress of Padmavati, the court said, “Today, somebody says I will give a reward to anyone who kills an actress. People are taking pride in saying we will give reward to those who will kill an actress… In this country, we have come to a situation where people cannot voice their opinions.” Blaming fringe groups, Justice Dharmadhikari said “this does not augur well for the state”.
“What concerns us is India’s image and reputation as a democratic country. We are the largest democracy. We cannot take pride in the happenings of such incidents day in and day out. We are cutting a very sorry figure,” said Justice Dharmadhikari.
The bench was hearing petitions filed by relatives of Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, expressing unhappiness with the investigations into their deaths. Dabholkar was shot in Pune in August 2013, while Pansare was shot in Kolhapur in February 2015. The bench also referred to the recent attack on two foreign tourists in Uttar Pradesh. “Somebody visits this country as tourists and they are attacked,” it said. “Maharashtra and Karnataka are known for social reformers and thinkers, and with such incidents, these states are cutting a sorry figure politically too,” it said.
The court said that in other countries, when any major incident occurs, the suspect is apprehended, dead or produced in court within hours. “However, our country’s agencies have not learnt anything from past incidents like the attack on Parliament and the Prime Minister,” Justice Dharmadhikari said. At the last hearing, Justice Dharmadhikari had referred to the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru, and said “this trend of killing all opposition is dangerous”.
Stating that serious matters cannot be allowed to linger for years, the court said today: “Enough damage has been caused already. Has any senior official from the two agencies bothered to find out why the probe is not making any headway… At the core of these two crimes are the bold attempts being made by fringe groups to attack those who voice their rational views, thoughts, feelings and expressions.”
While the CBI is probing the Dabholkar case, the Pansare murder case is being investigated by a Special Investigation Team of the CID. The bench posted the matter for further hearing on December 21.