A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, RS Reddy and MR Shah of Supreme Court refused to grant protection from coercive action to the petitioners and asked them to approach High Courts across the country for anticipatory bail.
The Court has however issued notice in the petition filed by the director and producers of Tandav web series of Amazon seeking the clubbing of FIRs lodged against them across the country for allegedly hurting religious sentiments.
The petitioners are facing criminal cases for hurting religious sentiments and insulting religion punishable under Sections 153A and 295 of Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Petition Before the Court
The petitioners were represented by the following advocates:
Amazon India Creative Head Aparna Purohit represented by Senior Advocates Fali Nariman, Mukul Rohatgi
Producer Himanshu Mehra, director Ali Abbas Zafar and writer Gaurav Solanki represented by Senior Advocate Sidharth Luthra.
Actor Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub represented by Senior Advocate Siddharth Agarwal
The Petition stated that the show has been made purely for entertainment purposes. It is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person living or dead or to any event is merely coincidental. In no manner does Tandav depict/portray/represent any gods and/or goddesses of any religion whatsoever.
The plea also stated that all the charges are baseless,
“The episode if seen in totality would demonstrate that there is absolutely no element which promotes enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence language [S.153A], no imputation or assertion prejudicial to national integration [Section 153B], there is no injury or defilement of a place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class [S. 295], either deliberate or malicious [Section 295A], no ingredient is made out for forgery for purpose of harming reputation [Section 469] nor has any statement been made which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public or to any section whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or public tranquility [Section 505(1)(b)]. Furthermore, the invocation of Section 66, 66F, 67 IT Act and Schedule Castes & Schedule Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 is patently absurd on the face of it…”
Submissions by the Parties
Senior Advocate Fali Nariman submitted that apologies for the objectionable content in Tandav web series have been made and the challenged parts of the content has been removed.
Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi pointed out while appearing for petitioners,
“In Arnab Goswami case, it has been established that after a violation of Article 19(1)(a), we can move Supreme Court. Party is in Mumbai, how many states will they go and defend themselves in six states?”
It was further contended that people get offended with anything and everything these days. Plea to protect the petitioners with no coercive steps was made. It was contended that the petitioner deleted content without any protest. “Scenes have been deleted. It’s a political satire.”
Senior Advocate Sidharth Luthra added that the director of the show was being harassed.
At this point, Justice Shah said,“Your right to freedom of speech is not absolute. Its subjected to restrictions.”
Luthra also sought to show that the registration of FIRs was not a tenable exercise of power.
Justice Shah then said, “How can we decide under Article 32 if an offence has been committed now?”
Luthra also referred to the Amish Devgan case, in which the Court granted interim protection to the journalist, who was also facing multiple FIRs for hurting religious sentiments.
He further submitted, “This is an analytical serial about political and social issues. When objection was taken, we deleted the scenes. Amazon and other OTT platforms are not like Doordarshan etc. It is based on choice and consent where I see only when I agree to watch a political satire…”
It was prayed that the Court should quash the FIRs registered against the petitioners at the police stations in Hazratganj, Rabupura, Katri, Omti and Ghatkopar, as well as the complaints filed at Indore and before the Patiala House Court in Delhi.
It was also prayed that the multiple FIRs be clubbed and transferred to Mumbai. Directions have been sought from the court for no cognizance of the existing complaints. No FIR to be registered in relation to the Tandav web series.