Three cheers for the Delhi High Court

Its verdict should halt the tendency to use the law to flaunt competitive intolerance

Excerpts from the verdict of a single-judge bench of the Delhi High Court (Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul):

In a free and democratic society, tolerance is vital. This is true especially in large and complex societies like ours where people with varied beliefs and interests mingle..

It is very unfortunate that the works of any artist today who have tried to play around with nudity have come under scrutiny. These artists have had to face the music, making them think twice before exhibiting their work of art.

India’s new Puritanism, practised by a largely ignorant crowd in the name of Indian spiritual purity, is threatening to throw the nation back into the Pre-Renaissance era. Criminal justice system should not be used as an easy recourse to ventilate against a creative act.

Today, each painting has a story to narrate. Art to every artist is a vehicle for personal expression. An aesthetic work of art has the vigour to connect to an individual sensually, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

The test for judging a work of art should be that of an ordinary man of common sense and not that of a hyper-sensitive one. Therefore looking at a piece of art from the painter’s perspective becomes very important, especially in the context of the nude.

Art and authority never had a difficult relationship, until recently…Our greatest problem today is fundamentalism, the triumph of the letter over the spirit. [IE]

Thus bench disposed off a slew of charges against M F Hussain (See Retributions). The plaintiffs will probably take their intolerance to the Supreme Court, but Justice Kaul’s judgement applies the brakes on the march of competitive intolerance. The big challenge, of course, is to make the ordinary man less hyper-sensitive. This judgement helps.

(We are trying to get hold of the full text of what looks like a very well-composed judgement.)

Update: Read Sandeep’s view, because it’s different.

19 thoughts on “Three cheers for the Delhi High Court”

  1. >Now the fascists will shout that the courts too are anti-Hindu.

    The Court’s judgement is not the problem — Freedom of Expression must stand no matter what.

    However, in reality, when the shoe is on the other foot — and some islamist passes a fatwa against someone who, for example, paints the prophet.
    The government will, in all likelihood do a taslima and danish cartoonist style response, noting that tender islamist sentiments need to be protected?
    Especially when the next alternative — media supported islamist violence — is pretty obvious.

    The judgement is an example of a good apple doing bad!
    That political perversion of a judicially sound move is the real shame.

  2. Yes, I agree with AG.

    It’s not hard to see that freedom of expression will be viewed from the perspective of ‘maintenance of law & order’ and ‘communal harmony’ prism. That’s why I have argued that we need to remove the discretion that administrators have: as long as they have discretion, a rational DM will find it expedient to issue a clamp down rather than face down the intolerant.

    But court judgements provide a backstop. Justice Kaul isn’t going to change the world. But given how far competitive intolerance has proceeded, anything that attempts to halt or reverse it, is welcome.

  3. The islamists have shown the world that violence, aggression, ridiculuously low tolerance thresholds, uncompromising obstructionism etc etc pays. And pays well.

    At least in the short term, it certainly seems to.

    Buys respect/ fear, deference etc. After all, isnt the definition of ‘power’, the ability to influence the actions of others?

    Such paragons of free expression as Holland and Denmark now quake in fear at the topic of free expression that may just be unflattering of islamist ideals.

    In any case, in India, it is certainly easy (and safe) to strut around wearing the mantle of progressive, tolerant sweet n reasonable liberal by dissing Hindu beliefs.

    How many here think a certain Muthuvel Karunanidhi, who loudly and proudly claimed Raama doesn’t exist, will be willing to publicly speculate on whether the G_d of a certain ‘minority’ religion existed only in the imagination of their prophet?

    Hey, just wondering only. In the spirit of free enquiry and all that.

  4. Could someone provide information on the status of India’s ban on Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses? Has there been any move (in the courts or otherwise) to lift the ban? Thanks.

  5. The decision is welcome! And I’d like to see the full text as you said. But I’m a little disappointed to see the judge begin with “tolerance” for free speech, instead of stressing it’s a fundamental right of every individual.

  6. The ban on Satanic Verses was lifted by NDA govt., if I remember correctly. They did it in the 3rd yr of their term or so but they lifted it eventually.

    Regarding MoFoHossain paintings: as long as the media keeps playing footsie with Islamofascists on freedom of speech we’ll never have any meaningful freedom, either of speech or expression. The hypocrisy in secularists’ Muslim pandering is too obvious for average folks to shut up when it’s their turn to have had “hurt feelings.”

    I usually keep a copy of “banned” books just as my way of protest.

  7. socal,
    Can you confirm that the ban on The Satanic Verses was lifted during NDA govt, with refs/links? According to the comments here, it has not been lifted as of July 2007. Thanks.

  8. Shekhar Gupta has reported that hussain went in spasms of rage and had to be physically restrained when shekhar asked hussain whether he would take the same liberties with his prophet.

  9. Anon,

    What Mr Hussain would like to paint is his business. The point about Justice Kaul’s judgement is that anyone should be able to paint anything without having to face physical and legal attacks. We should be less concerned about Mr Hussain’s preferences and more concerned about protecting others to take liberties—even of the kinds that throw Mr Hussain into spasms of rage.

  10. Sorry to come back to this topic but found this superbly incisive post on another blog. (link)

    And this is the crux of why the judgement, while in itself the ‘Dharmic’ thing to do, is flawed because it has to be executed in such ‘Adharmic’ times. The asymemetry of rules is worrisome, because the protectors of national interest (such as INI) generally use dharmic principles but destroyers of the Indian nation (such as the (anti)Hindu) use adharmic means.

    This one gives at least me sleepless nights 🙂

    (Multiple comments deleted – Ed)

  11. AG,

    Public policy in India shouldn’t be driven by Mr Ram’s hypocrisy. That would be giving him too much importance and credibility.

  12. @Nitin:

    Justice Kaul’s judgement is that anyone should be able to paint anything without having to face physical and legal attacks.

    Why the restraint on legal challenges? Do I have the freedom to defame John and Jane Doe by publishing pornographic images of them, for example , “without having to face legal attacks”? I suppose not.

    As long as there is an obscenity or a defamation law in effect, and the rule of law prevails as it does in a democracy, the lawful recourse for the offended persons is to challenge the publication in question in a court of law. It’s an entirely different matter to question the constitutionality or the irrelevance of the law itself.

    The legal challenges are not as much a threat to freedom of expression in India (provided the courts dismiss the frivolous ones efficiently and expeditiously), as the mob violence on the street and the violence that is conspired in the political cabals of the State. Witness, the case of the recent State sponsored eviction of Taslima Nasreen.

  13. RF,

    I cannot find a link, but I did find some for NDA granting visa to Rushdie. You can google it. If memory serves me right, NDA did lift the ban on Rushdie’s travel and book simultaneously, but rather quietly. Quite perplexing that I don’t see a link confirming both.

  14. RF,

    Fair enough. I was using shorthand for the tendency to file a police complaint (and hence launch criminal proceedings) against those you are offended with. I am against the practice as well as the laws.

  15. “What Mr Hussain would like to paint is his business. ”

    Not really. Not if he is painting Sarasvasti Devi in nude and selling to the highest bidder – to those newly minted billionaires…

    The HC decision is one of the worst I have seen in long time. The judge confuses and conflates, and apparently many here too, two unrelated issues and shows his stupidity and, of his followers elsewhere. Nobody cares if Hussan draws a naked pictures or run a strip club at the end of his street. It’s not an issue of societal puritanism or about some sex hand book (it’s not a manual performing sex in public or how one can be naked in public). And it’s not case of equal offense to other religions too. Who cares what sentiments Muslims have? That doesn’t do anything to minimize this stupidity.

    The silly painter draws naked pictures of entities that Hindus worship. Atheists won’t know what worship and devotion may mean. But that’s mean they can walk all over people who do and their sentiments. I am sure he sees beauty in nakedness – who doesn’t? I am sure he draws naked pictures of his grand-daughters – aren’t they beautiful when they’re naked and probably sell it highest bidder. But most in the society, even non-hindus, will be morally outraged – one would hope…

    It’s one more step to moral degradation and society without bounds. The stupid HC judge and his followers better beware the path they are following.

  16. Chandra, religious types assault those damned atheists every day with imagery and propaganda. What does atheism have to do with this?

    And your commentary about “moral degradation and society without bounds” is just BS. Blasphemy is a victimless “crime”. We would be in illustrious company if the Indian state prosecuted people left and right for imaginary crimes based on “hurt sentiments”. You think about that, rather than sermonising the stupid judge and his followers.

  17. will hussain take the liberty to paint Prophet or Jesus nude like he painted hindu gods and goddesses? If he does so then I am Sure he will not remain alive to go to any court to defend his freedom of expression.

Comments are closed.