Freedom Of Speech Not Absolute: Supreme Court to Tandav Makers

The top court denied a plea by the Tandav makers seeking protection from coercive action.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued notice on pleas filed by the team involved in the making of web series Tandav which sought to club and transfer FIRs filed against them for allegedly hurting religious sentiments. The bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan observed that freedom of speech is not absolute as it denied their plea seeking interim protection from coervice action.

Separate pleas were filed by Amazon India Creative Head Aparna Purohit, producer Himanshu Mehra, director Ali Abbas Zafar, writer Gaurav Solanki and actor Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub who plays the character named Shiva.

At least six FIRs have been filed against the Tandav makers in different states and its increasing every day," senior advocate Fali Nariman said.

Refusal of interim protection will lead to havoc: plea in SC

When the hearing began, Nariman pointed out that the objectionable parts from the web series have already been removed. "The so-called religious sentiments that were hurt by some parts; these parts have been removed," Nariman said. Despite this, seven more FIRs were filed.

The court was initially reluctant to intervene in the matter and requested the petitioners to approach the respective high courts for relief.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, who was also defending Purohit, submitted "People are now offended by everything. The Petitioners reside in Bombay. Why will they go to different States?"

Rohatgi reminded the top court about the time it intervened in Republic TV editor in chief Arnab Goswami's case where he too had faced multiple FIRs in different states. "Your Lordships stated that violation of 19(1)(a) (right to free speech) could allow us to approach SC," he added.

"At least club all the FIRs," Rohatgi requested reminding the top court that it had granted similar relief to painter MF Hussain as well. Amish Devgn's case was also mentioned where he too got similar relief. Refusal to grant protection would create havoc as petitioners would have to go to different high courts for relief.

"Even though we admit that we have not done anything wrong. It (Tandav) is a political satire. If people are so sensitive in everything, then art, cinema, TV, all will be destroyed," Rohatgi added. "Article 19(1)(a) is the most jealously guarded right. It must be protected. This was also held in Arnab Goswami," he argued.

Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra argued on the rights to freedom of speech and expression. To which, the top court said, "Your right to freedom of speech is not absolute."

"But is this the kind of harassment I should be put to?" Luthra replied.

Referring to a top court verdict, Luthra said there cannot be more than one FIR in same cause of action. " I am being dragged across the country. This is persecution not prosecution," he added.

"This is an analytical serial about political and social issues. Even though there was no objectionable content, we removed them after complaints. Amazon and other OTT platforms are not like Doordarshan etc. It is based on choice. I read the synopsis of the show and then only consent to see it..." he added.

Representing the Ayyub, advocate Siddharth Agarwal argued, "the statements of the character cannot be attributed to the actor." To this, the Justice MR Shah said, "You cannot take up a role without reading the script. You cannot play a role by hurting religious sentiments of others."

Tandav work of fiction, any resemblance co-incidental

In their plea, the Tandav makers alleged that the series was a work of fiction made purely for entertainment purposes. "The Petitioners submit that they absolutely did not intend to offend the sentiments of any individual, caste, community, race or religion or to denigrate any institution, political party or person living or dead...The alleged offending & scenes are rather, only a contemporary depiction of societal norms and growing influence of social media in our day to day lives," the ple said.

"The episode, if seen in totality would demonstrate that there is absolutely no element which promotes enmity between different groups…," it added. The plea further said that an apology was made and objectionable parts had already been deleted.

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