On the day the Supreme Court refused to modify its order staying Gujarat and Rajasthan’s notifications prohibiting the screening of Padmaavat, protests against the film — it is due for release Thursday — turned violent with mobs in Ahmedabad targeting multiplexes and malls, blocking roads and torching parked vehicles. Police fired in the air to scatter the mobs.
Violence also broke out in parts of Surat. Protesters burnt tyres to block traffic on the highway to Kheralu area of north Gujarat.
Ahmedabad Police Commissioner A K Singh told The Indian Express that two rounds were fired in the air outside Himalaya Mall to disperse the mobs.
Gujarat’s Minister of State for Home Pradeepsinh Jadeja said: “We are probing who is responsible for the incident. Police have detained 30 people so far. I am in touch with Karni Sena leaders and they have said that they do not approve of violent protests. I am saying this again that the state government will follow the Supreme Court order which has allowed release of the film.”
At least three Ahmedabad malls — Acropolis which has the PVR multiplex, Himalaya which has Carnival Cinema and Ahmedabad One which has Cinepolis — were targeted by mobs which set ablaze at least 25-30 vehicles, mostly two-wheelers outside Himalaya Mall, and 10-12 vehicles outside Acropolis, Additional Chief Fire Officer Rajesh Bhatt said.
These were attacked even though cinema hall owners had said they would not be screening Padmaavat because of security concerns. Manu Patel, president of Ahmedabad multiplex association, said: “Our decision stays. Multiplexes in Ahmedabad will not be screening Padmaavat.”
Raj Shekhawat, Gujarat chief of the Rashtriya Rajput Karni Sena, said: “I have appealed for peace but emotions are running high… I am still appealing for peaceful protest.”
Surat police commissioner Satish Sharma said: “Until Monday, we had arrested 23 people and today we have arrested 20 more. We have lodged a complaint against leaders of different organisations. We have identified such leaders and will arrest them soon.”
In the Supreme Court, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra refused to modify its earlier order staying the notifications issued by Gujarat and Rajasthan that prohibited screening of the film.
“Your whole submission proceeds on the argument that it distorts history. But when the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), while clearing the film, asked them to put a disclaimer, and the film claims not to portray history, the basis of your argument goes,” Justice D Y Chandrachud told a counsel appearing for the Shri Rajput Karni Sena.
“We are not inclined to entertain the applications for modification. We find no merit,” the bench said. “Let us not come to a stage where exhibition of a movie of this nature after issuance of certificate is crippled… People must understand that it (CBFC) is a statutory body. Supreme Court has passed an order. People have to abide by it. If they don’t like it, don’t watch,” CJI Misra said.
Appearing for the states, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said he was not seeking a ban, but only the liberty to take action if the circumstances so warranted. “Suppose in a given area, it becomes necessary to stop screening for a few days,” he told the bench.
“State should first implement our order. Then if the occasion arises, we will examine it,” Justice A M Khanwilkar said. “Otherwise, you will create a virtue out of it and then demand a ban,” Justice Chandrachud said.
Citing freedom of expression and recalling instances of courts refusing to ban works of literature and art, the Supreme Court had, on January 18, stayed the notifications issued by the two state governments, and also restrained other states from issuing similar notifications. It had underlined that “valued constitutional rights” were at stake, and added that it is the “duty and obligation of states to maintain law and order”.