Updated: January 28, 2021 7:37:35 am
The Supreme Court Wednesday declined to grant interim protection from arrest to the makers of the Amazon web series Tandav, who are facing charges of hurting religious sentiments, but agreed to consider their plea for clubbing of FIRs registered in different states.
“Approach High Court,” a bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and M R Shah said as Senior Advocate Fali S Nariman, appearing for the petitioners, urged the bench to direct that no coercive action be taken against the petitioners. The bench also issued notice on the prayer to club the FIRs pending in different states.
The bench did not seem to agree with advocate Siddharth Aggarwal, counsel for Tandav actor Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, who contended that the statements of the character cannot be attributed to the actor in person.
To this, Justice Shah said that the actor would not have accepted the role without reading the script and added, “you cannot hurt religious sentiments of others”.
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Nariman pointed out that the objectionable parts, which allegedly hurt religious sentiments, have been removed and an apology tendered. Despite this, seven more FIRs have been filed even after that, he said.
The bench pointed out that the prayer was for quashing the FIRs and sought to know why he was not approaching the high courts.
The senior counsel replied that the FIRs were in six states “and it’s increasing every day”.
Justice Shah remarked that police can file a closure report if the content has been removed and the apology tendered.
Emphasising that it was a case of free speech under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, Nariman referred to Republic TV Editor-In-Chief Arnab Goswami’s case in which the SC had clubbed the FIRs pending in different states.
Agreeing with Nariman, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Amazon India Creative Head Aparna Purohit, said, “(The show) is a political satire. If people are so sensitive… then art, cinema, TV, all will be destroyed.” Article 19(1)(a) is the most zealously guarded right and must be protected as was held in the Goswami case too, he urged.
Urging the bench to at least merge all FIRs, he recalled that the court had done so in the M F Husain case in which he had appeared. “The petitioners reside in Bombay. Why will they go to different states?” Rohatgi said and added that the court had in Goswami’s case held that in case of violation of 19(1)(a), the aggrieved party could approach the court.
Senior Advocate Siddharth Luthra, appearing for the producer, director and scriptwriter of Tandav, also sought to underline the Article 19(1)(a) argument but the bench told him, “Your right to freedom of speech is not absolute.”
As Luthra referred to the contents of the FIR, the bench wondered how it could decide in an Article 32 writ petition whether an offence has been made out or not.
Stating that it involved questions of liberty and natural justice, Luthra referred to the SC order protecting journalist Amish Devgan from coercive action in FIRs filed against him in different states and consolidating the FIRs.
Tandav, argued Luthra, is an analytical serial about political and social issues. The makers deleted the scenes when objections were made, he said, adding that on Amazon and other OTT platforms, a person sees something only when he or she agrees to watch it.
The cases against its makers, he argued, “is persecution not prosecution”.
Rohatgi reiterated that in Goswami’s case, only the primary complaint was kept alive and others were quashed in accordance with the judgment in the 2001 SC judgment in T T Antony Vs State of Kerala and Others on avoiding multiple FIRs where the allegations are the same.
But Justice Shah told him that the Goswami case was considered by another bench of which he too was a part and the FIR was not quashed.
Urging the court to club the FIRs, Rohatgi said this case will put a lot of people under great harassment. “Article 19(1)(a) was completely brushed away”.
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