The Supreme Court on Thursday strongly disapproved of attributing obscene expletives to Mahatma Gandhi, stating artistic freedom cannot be a pretense to justify such attributions to the Father of the Nation, who stood at a “higher pedestal”.
A bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C Pant said there was certainly a difference between “freedom of ideas” and “freedom of words” and that a person, under the pretext of liberty of thoughts, cannot put abusive words in somebody else’s mouth to “accentuate the sensationalism”.
“Is it not a collective responsibility of the nation to respect Mahatma Gandhi? What is this? You cannot respect an ideal but can vulgarise the man who gave these ideals in the garb and guise of artistic freedom,” the bench said.
The court said this as it reserved verdict on a petition by Devidas Ramachandra Tuljapurkar, editor and publisher of a bulletin magazine of All India Bank Employees Association. He had challenged his prosecution for publishing in 1994 a poem by Marathi poet Vasant Dattatray Gujjar. The poem ‘Gandhi Mala Bhetla Hota’ (I met Gandhi) allegedly attributed obscene and vulgar expletives to Gandhi. The Bombay HC had dismissed Tuljapurkar’s plea to drop prosecution under Section 292 (sale, publication of obscene books) of the IPC. The top court, however, stayed the proceedings in 2010. Senior counsel Gopal Subramanium, appearing for Tuljapurkar, argued that freedom of ideas can only be enjoyed through words, and maintained that people, who know Marathi, say that the poem is just satirical. He contended that artistic freedom could only be curtailed by constitutional and statutory provisions and not by the halo of historic personalities.
The bench retorted: “If some were to put these words in the mouth of Queen Victoria how would the British have reacted? Linguistic freedom is not a problem but using the linguistic freedom to say something to Mahatma Gandhi is an issue”. It clarified that this was not a question of individual comfort of an artist but the “statutory and constitutional comfort”.
Senior advocate Fali S Nariman, appointed as amicus curiae, pointed out the Emblem Act protects Mahatma Gandhi from contentious depiction.