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A duty to curb intolerance

The movie Kedarnath, which depicts the love story, has sparked a controversy. There are shrill demands for banning its exhibition. The Uttarakhand High Court observed that those who do not like the movie need not watch it.

Written by Soli J. Sorabjee |
Updated: December 17, 2018 3:52:59 am
kedarnath box office collection The movie Kedarnath, which depicts the love story, has sparked a controversy.

A love story in which an upper caste Hindu female falls in love with a Muslim porter is not unusual. Persons from one community do marry persons from a different community in India that is Bharat. Such a love story is not inherently hurtful to the sentiments of reasonable people. However, the movie Kedarnath, which depicts the love story, has sparked a controversy. There are shrill demands for banning its exhibition. A PIL was filed for that purpose. The Uttarakhand High Court dismissed it, observing that those who do not like the movie need not watch it.

Prior to the court’s judgment, the Uttarakhand government had formed a four-member committee headed by tourism minister Satpal Maharaj to review the movie. After the committee submitted its report, Maharaj said, “The film is completely against our beliefs and tradition and has made fun of our emotions. It has all the ingredients to disturb the law and order situation in the state.” The tourism minister further stated, “we will come up with a bond to be filled by filmmakers to make a commitment that they will not make a movie which is against the sentiments of people”.

This a stand that reeks of intolerance. In the first place who are the Hindus, whose sentiments would be offended if the movie is exhibited. There may be many Hindus whose sentiments are not offended at all. On what authority does Uttarakhand’s tourism minister claim to speak for all Hindus in the country? In this context, the words of the former Supreme Court justice, Vivan Bose, are very relevant: “An endeavour should be made to gather the general effect which the whole composition would have on the mind of the public.

However, all sorts and varieties of human beings constitute the public and the nature of the article cannot be judged by the effect it produces upon cranks or fanatics or those with hypersensitive minds.” In judging the effect of a writing, the standards to be employed must be of “reasonable, strong-minded human beings and not to those of weak and vacillating minds”. Justice Bose’s observations are equally applicable to a movie. Therefore, the correct test is what impression the movie seen in its entirety would produce upon strong-minded persons of ordinary common sense. Persons who would resort to violence because of their objection to and intolerance of the movie per se are not to be considered in arriving at the decision to ban or not to ban a movie.

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It must be remembered that a ban on the exhibition of a movie affects the fundamental rights of the producer under the Constitution’s Article 19(1)(a) — the freedom of speech and expression — and also his fundamental right of carrying on trade and business under Article 19(1)(g). True, no fundamental right is absolute. However, the restriction has to be reasonable, not arbitrary and should be in accordance with due process of law.

Raja Rammohan Roy’s efforts for reform in the Hindu religion, especially for the abolition of Sati, evoked virulent opposition. We must ensure that we do not revert to those dark days, implicit in the move of the Uttarakhand government that producers of a movie shall mandatorily execute the bond. We must keep in mind the celebrated judgment of the Supreme Court in S Rangarajan vs. P Jagjivan Ram which said, “we must practise tolerance to the views of others. Intolerance is as much dangerous to democracy as to the person himself” (emphasis mine).

The danger of intolerance and the need to eliminate it has been recognised by the UN Declaration on Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief that was adopted on November 25, 1981. Its preamble inter alia expresses its concern on the prevalence of intolerance. The Declaration resolves to adopt all necessary measures for the speedy elimination of intolerance in all its manifestations. Article 4 of the Declaration inter alia requires all states to take appropriate measures to combat intolerance on the grounds of religion or other beliefs in this matter.

Intolerance is the violation of human rights. It must be curbed whenever it manifests itself. We cannot afford to be complacent. This is a duty which must be performed without equivocation. Remember the failure to do so puts our democracy in grave risk.

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The writer is former attorney general for India

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First published on: 17-12-2018 at 12:20:53 am
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