The Maharashtra government's order suspending screening of Hindi film 'Deshdrohi' focussing on the plight of north Indians in the city was quashed by the Bombay High Court which observed that the state should have instead dealt firmly with those who preach hate. Calling the order as "arbitrary", a Division bench of Chief Justice Swatanter Kumar and Justice Dhananjay Chandrachud said the state cannot transgress on fundamental rights of the citizens for "the purpose of its convenience". The court also rejected the state's plea to stay the judgement.
The film, directed and produced by Kamal R Khan, was banned on November 12 first. It was released elsewhere in the country, but state stuck to its stand even after the High Court asked it to review the decision.
As the film came on the heels of Raj Thackeray's anti -north Indians agitation, government feared violent reaction. But Justice Chandrachud, in his individual order, said, "State ought to have firmly dealt with those preached hatred and instigated violence," but ironically it tried to suppress those who tried to express anguish of the victims. "Though we have increasingly become vulnerable to violence from outside the nation, as recent events would show, it is important in the time of crisis to reaffirm, rather than revise, our committment to our core constitutional values." Referring to an apprehension in police's internal correspondence about Raj Thackeray's party exploiting the film for its agitation, Chandrachud said: "State is not powerless if any segment of the society, be it a political party or its protagonist, preaches hate towards those who originated elsewhere."
The judge also touched upon issues relating to freedom of speech and expression.
Though Raj Thackeray's agitation was not the issue before the court, Justice Chandrachud asserted that citizens of India have the freedom, guaranteed by the constitution, to go and settle in any part of the country. Further, he said: "Duty to govern in accordance with the constitution involves a non-negotiable obligation to tackle all those who preach hatred and vilence to the person from outside the state."
"Maharashtra has a secular tradition which has witnessed peaceful co-existence of diverse linguistic and religious communities...The state is a microcosm of nation in every sense. Every segment of Indian society has contributed to development of Maharashtra, its industry.." the judge noted.
About artiste's freedom, Justice Chandrachud said: "Giving expression to a perception that there is a discrimination against a particular segment is protected by the guarantee of freedom of speech (in the constitution). In doing so, author or flim maker is entitled to use his creativity to the utmost."
In voicing such perception an artiste may "overstate the point", but freedom of speech protects this too, he said. "Freedom of speech does not require writer to present a sanitised view of life....How sensitive should be the depiction (of life) or how crude it should be are not the matters where law intervenes," Justice Chandrachud said. The court also noted that though the film has been released in other parts of the country, and though in Maharashtra it's promos had been running on TV, no untoward incident has taken place so far.