Can’t lay down moral guidelines to stop Sardar jokes: SC

It expressed doubts whether the PIL filed by Sikh lawyer Harvinder Chowdhury would be maintainable in law for seeking directions to ban circulation of jokes on Sikhs and Sardars.

Written by Utkarsh Anand | New Delhi | Published:February 8, 2017 5:26 am
supreme court, sardar jokes, santa banta jokes, sikh jokes, indian express news, india news The Supreme Court. (File Photo)

QUESTIONING how it can stop people from cracking jokes and who will regulate such directions, the Supreme Court on Tuesday said that it cannot lay down “moral guidelines” for the people in order to ban jokes on Sikhs and Sardars.

“In such a diversified country, it is very difficult to lay down guidelines qua a community. Who will control whom? How can we prevent people from cracking jokes? What would be mode, methods and measures for it? We don’t think we can go into it,” said a bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra.

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It added: “We are slightly uncomfortable about it. We cannot lay down moral guidelines for the citizens. Fundamental duty is a part of the Constitution. There has to be mutual respect (among people) but how can we enforce something like this? Even if we issue guidelines who will control it?”

It expressed doubts whether the PIL filed by Sikh lawyer Harvinder Chowdhury would be maintainable in law for seeking directions to ban circulation of jokes on Sikhs and Sardars. Claiming that such jokes are a violation of their right to equality with fellow citizens and an attack on the dignity of the community, Chowdhury had said that the court should order the government to ensure such jokes are taken off websites and filters are put in place to stop more such jokes on the Internet. She had also said that offenders should be told to deposit a compensation in the National Legal Aid.

Over several hearings spanning more than a year, a different bench led by former Chief Justice of India T S Thakur had agreed to examine her requests and sought responses from Sikh bodies on framing certain guidelines. But hearing the matter for the first time after Justice Thakur’s retirement, Justice Misra observed that it was virtually impossible for the courts to issue guidelines in a matter like this.

“Can we issue guidelines for individuals on how to behave and how to react? How can we issue moral guidelines by setting standards of behaviour? Can we say you don’t crack joke? Then the question would be what would mean by a joke? Again, different people react differently to a joke too. Someone can laugh but another person may not find it funny at all. Somebody may understand a joke later and then laugh. So what can be the guidelines and how would it be enforced?” said the bench.

It differentiated between cases such as in Vishaka case where the apex court issued detailed guidelines on preventing sexual harassment at work places. “There (in Vishaka) the issues of dignity and respect for an entire gender arose. We had certain international conventions and covenants too. But here, how can there be guidelines qua one community and with respect to one aspect — jokes. Questions of individual dignity can be separately handled if pointed out by aggrieved persons. If it is question of societal or psychological aspect, the legislature can take care,” said the court.

The bench said if it was a question relating to circulation of certain materials on social media to make commercial profits, it could seek help of Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar for regulating it as was done in the case relating to advertisements on Internet on sex determination tests.

It added that the court did not want to deliver any judgment in the instant PIL and it may pass some order on March 27, the next date of hearing.

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