Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Delhi High Court: Two verdicts for free speech

Two weeks ago, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul wrote a fantastic verdict upholding the principle of freedom of speech and expression:

Coming down heavily on the "new puritanism" being carried out by "ignorant people", the Delhi High Court on Thursday dismissed criminal proceedings against eminent painter MF Husain, overruling the charges of obscenity against his paintings. [...]

"A painter has his own perspective of looking at things and it cannot be the basis of initiating criminal proceedings against him," Kaul said in his 74-page judgement.

"In India, new puritanism is being carried out in the name of cultural purity and a host of ignorant people are vandalizing art and pushing us towards a pre-renaissance era," he observed.

The court said the question of obscenity was nowhere to be seen in his paintings, as it was his perspective of looking at things and one should not challenge that.

At that time, several bloggers -- including Sunil Mukhi and V. Venkatesan -- celebrated that verdict. Given the assault on free speech from pretty much all of the political spectrum, it is a verdict worth celebrating.

Yesterday, it was the turn of two other Delhi High Court judges -- Chief Justice A.P. Shah and Justice S. Muralidhar -- to bat for free speech. They dismissed the lawsuit filed against the inclusion of the 300 Ramayanas paper in a Delhi University history course.

Holding that the history syllabus under-graduate course was based on "well researched" materials, the Delhi High Court rejected the contention by the petitioners that Hindu gods and goddesses were referred to in a "defamatory" and "derogatory" language saying these are folklore and interpreted in various ways. [...]

"These are folklore. Let the university decide it. It's not for the court to interfere in the matter. We are here to defend Article 19 (freedom of speech and expression) and not to defy it," the bench said. [Bold emphasis added].


  1. Anonymous said...

    Yes, it is a great achievement indeed. A painter should definitely have his way of looking at things - as must the petitioners who filed the case against him. If the petitioners did not have the right against Hussain, I suppose, by the same yardstick, we cant be expected to infringe on that of the petitioners. And of course, I agree that rioting is not the 'way'.

    About the other case you mentioned above, all it tells me is that Ramayana is not a "well-researched" subject. I dont see why the Court brought in the "freedom of expression" other than for the fabled (no pun intended) "chillar" value. Also, is it still "freedom of expression" if it is (per the University/ Court itself) not well researched and still interpreted as folklore?

    I guess its an axiom, or better still, common sense: By definition, Freedom of expression is mutual.

  2. ankit said...

    Dear Sir,
    The mythological stories and faith on them derives from the believe in the values of the characters and as such there is nothing wrong in presenting it to put in perspectives of different cultures and thus how it impacts the same story.But at the same time freedom of expression should be accompanied by responsibilities for the reactions it evokes in people.It's a democracy and not any autocracy to be handed over to some high brow "intellectuals".
    I agree with