The Supreme Court on Thursday said that in the name of artistic freedom poets and authors cannot use abusive words against others — including persons as Mahatma Gandhi — as every freedom is subject to restrictions.
“There is a distinction between freedom of idea and freedom of words. You have an idea, express it, but the words you choose must be controlled and under the statute,” a bench headed by justice Dipak Misra said while hearing an appeal filed by the publisher of a Marathi magazine and a poet who wanted a criminal case registered against them quashed.
Marathi poet Vasant Dattatrey Gujjar and publisher Devidas Ramachandra Tuljapukar have been charged for and using “profane” language in a political satire on Mahatma Gandhi. The two were booked in Mumbai under section 292 of the IPC under which they can be sent to jail for five years.
Gujjar wrote the political satire Gandhi Mala Bhetla Hota (I met Gandhi) in 1984. A decade later it was published by Tuljapurkar who then edited a bulletin released by the All India Banks Association for circulation in banks and among employees.
The poem was a surrealistic satire in which the poet meets the Mahatma in several different social milieus in modern-day India including the Mumbai red light area. It also describes how the Gandhis of today have strayed away from his teachings.
The SC’s comments come days after it struck down the controversial section 66A of the IT Act as being unconstitutional.
The bench noted use of abusive words against Mahatma Gandhi was unacceptable since he had a unique iconic status.
Senior counsel Gopal Subramanium who represented the publisher and author contended that freedom of speech and liberty extended not just within the country but also outside wherever such freedom is guaranteed.
He argued it was a matter of individual perception as to how a word is interpreted.