Poem on Mahatma: Freedom of speech can’t be absolute, says SC
Freedom of speech and expression cannot be “absolute”, the Supreme Court on Thursday said as it refused to reject criminal charges against an author for penning an alleged vulgar and obscene poem on Mahatma Gandhi in 1994.
Putting vulgar and obscene words in the mouth of “historically respected personalities” like Gandhi
cannot pass the “contemporary community standards test” meant to adjudge the obscenity of an alleged literary work, the apex court said.
The observation came in a judgement by which the court quashed criminal charges against bank employee Devidas Ramchandra Tuljapurkar for publishing the “vulgar and obscene” poem on Gandhi in 1994 in an in-house magazine of which he was an editor.
“Freedom of speech and expression has to be given a broad canvas, but it has to have inherent limitations which are permissible within the constitutional parameters. We have already opined that freedom of speech and <g data-gr-id="39">expression as enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution</g> is not absolute in view of Article 19(2) of the Constitution.
“We reiterate the said right is a right of great value and transcends and with the passage of time and growth of culture, it has to pave the path of ascendancy, but it cannot be put in the compartment of absoluteness. There is constitutional limitation attached to it...,” a bench of justices Dipak Misra and P C Pant said.
The bench noted that the publisher published the poem “Gandhi Mala <g data-gr-id="35">Bhetala</g>” in 1994 and “immediately” after coming to know its impact, he tendered <g data-gr-id="30">unconditional</g> apology in the next issue of the magazine.
“Once he has tendered the unconditional apology even before the inception of the proceedings and almost more than two decades have passed, we are inclined to quash the charge framed against him as well as the printer.
“We are <g data-gr-id="32">disposed</g> to quash the charge against the printer, as it is submitted that he had printed as desired by the publisher. Hence, they stand discharged,” the bench said.
The apex court quashed the criminal proceedings against Tuljapurkar who had published the poem in a magazine ‘Bulletin’ for private circulation among the members of All India Bank Association Union.
It, however, made it clear that it was not expressing any opinion on the charges framed against Marathi poet Vasant Dattatraya Gurjar, author of the poem, and it would be up to him to explain the “manner and the context” in which he used the words against Mahatma in the trial court.