Additional recommendations laid down against violence towards artistic expression: SC

Supreme Court: A Bench comprising of CJ Dipak Misra and A.M. Khanwilkar and Dr D.Y. Chandrachud, JJ., laid down some recommendations in addition to the ones in Destruction of Public and Private Properties, In re, (2009) 5 SCC 212, concerning the issue of  “mob violence, protests and demonstrations” erupted in the recent past, especially against cultural programmes and establishments and the ensuing damages to public and private properties due to violence.

The petitioners concern as submitted and placed in the present matter was in regard to violence being the crux and primary issue. The petitioner submitted that law and order problems were arising out of the release of several films, especially the violence surrounding the release of the film “Padmaavat” as the fundamentalist outfits and fringe groups issued threats and engaged in acts of violence against people and property to disrupt and prevent public exhibitions of such films on the pretext that they “offend their cultural/religious sentiments.” Films which were protested against were certified for public exhibition in accordance with law under the Cinematograph Act. Attacks on films by such groups were imposed by unlawful restraints and further impinge on the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.  The consequence to all the stated circumstances above was the respondent State government’s action of banning the exhibition of such films citing law and order problems, without clamping down on the root cause. Petitioners articulated some suggestions to curb the occurrence of such events.

Therefore, Court on noting the submissions of the petitioner’s concluded its decision by stating that the primary relief is to issue directions to the State/Union of India to strictly implement the decision rendered by the Supreme Court in Destruction of Public and Private Properties, In re, (2009) 5 SCC 212 concerning the large-scale destruction of properties in the name of agitations, bandhs, hartals, etc. Further, it was noted that Attorney General for India, K.K. Venugopal, had also given certain suggestions to increase accountability and timelines for law-enforcement bodies in relations to acts of mob-violence.

The Supreme Court stated that such acts of violence as stated above highlight a deeper malaise, one of intolerance towards others’ views which then results in attempts to suppress alternate view-points, artistic integrity and the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution of India.

Nobody has the right to become a self-appointed guardian of law and forcibly administer his or her own interpretation of the law on others, especially not with violent means.”

In regard to the measures to be introduced, the suggestions made by the AG could be implemented as interim measures. Further, the Court said that the crimes committed by groups of self-appointed keepers of public morality may be on account of different reasons or causes, but the underlying purpose of such group of persons is to exercise unlawful power of authority. Therefore, a comprehensive structure has to be evolved to deal with the issues of accountability and efficiency in curbing incidents of peaceful protests turning into mob-violence.

Hence, the Court without hesitation observed that the dispensation can be similar in the present matter as the one decided in Tehseen Poonawalla v. Union of India, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 1666. Further, the recommendations in addition to Destruction of Public and Private Properties, In re, (2009) 5 SCC 212 were under the following heads:

  • Structural and preventive measures
  • Remedies to minimize, if not extirpate, the impending mob violence
  • Liability of person causing violence
  • Responsibility of police officials
  • Compensation

The writ petition was dismissed by giving the directive of implementation of the recommendations by the Central and State governments preferably within a period of 8 weeks. [Kodungallur Film Society v. Union of India,2018 SCC OnLine SC 1719, decided on 01-10-2018]

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