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India's Supreme Court Says You Can't Use "Indecent Language" To Discuss "Historically Respected Personalities"

And a lot of people are unhappy with what is being perceived as an assault on freedom of expression.

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This morning, India's Supreme Court ruled that using "indecent language" to discuss "historically respected personalities" is punishable by up to 2 years in jail and a fine of ₹2,000.

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In 1994, a Bank of Maharashtra employee named Devidas Ramchandra Tuljapurkar published a Marathi poem named "Gandhi Mala Bhetla Hota" (which translates to "I Met Gandhi") in a magazine of which he was editor. In the poem – which Tuljapurkar's lawyers have claimed was a work of satire – he attributes certain dialogues to Gandhi which featured "obscene" language. He was then charged with the sale/publication of obscene books.

After the charges were upheld in the Bombay High Court, Tulkapurkar made an appeal to Supreme Court for them to be dropped. This morning, Supreme Court refused to drop his charges, ruling that the use of "indecent language" is prohibited when it comes to "historically respected personalities". Their argument was that citizens are bound by “contemporaneous community parameters,” regardless of one's right to freedom of expression.

"It is not a question of individual concept. It is a question of constitutional or statutory comfort. 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 a controlled one and under the statute.

"The fundamental right of a speaker cannot be curtailed, but when exercising the freedom you cannot abuse. To put a satire on a higher pedestal, you cannot use abusive words to accentuate sensationalism," the court said.

Reactions on social media – from lawyers and non-lawyers alike – have been critical of the court's ruling.

Are we so ignorant about Mahatma Gandhi that someone writing satire with Gandhi as the imaginary narrator lowers his "image and reputation"?

In my personal view this is one of the SCs stupid judgments. How can you preserve someone historically while the...

Can we have a list of who all are historically respected?


PT: It also opens a Pandora's Box with respect to future cases brought "on behalf of historically respected personalities."

In my personal view this is one of the SCs stupid judgments. How can you preserve someone historically while the...

Congratulations to SC in introducing new ground for restriction of FoE: "historically respected personalities"