The Allahabad High Court on Thursday, February 25, rejected the anticipatory bail plea of Aparna Purohit, the India content chief of Amazon Prime Video, who has been booked in at least 10 FIRs across several states for "hurting religious sentiments" by streaming the web series 'Tandav'.
The anticipatory bail plea was filed in connection with a case lodged in Greater Noida against Purohit and six others for "promoting enmity between different groups and intending to outrage religious feelings", among others.
A single-judge bench of Justice Sidharth said: "The applicant had not been vigilant and has acted irresponsibly making her open to criminal prosecution in permitting streaming of a movie which is against the fundamental rights of the majority of citizens of this country and therefore, her fundamental right of life and liberty cannot be protected by a grant of anticipatory bail to her in the exercise of discretionary powers of this court."
The HC said that it is the duty "of every citizen to respect the feelings of the people of other faith", even while creating a fictional show.
"The irresponsible conduct against the inherent mandate of the Constitution of India by anyone affecting the fundamental rights of a large number of citizens cannot be acquiesced to only because of the tendering of unconditional apology after committing the alleged act of crime and indiscretion," the court said.
The court, in its order, said that the disclaimer about the show being fictional "cannot be considered to be a ground for absolving the applicant of permitting the streaming of an objectionable movie online".
Commenting on the title of the show, the Allahabad HC said, "The use of the word 'Tandav' as the name of the movie can be offensive to the majority of the people of this country since this word is associated with a particular act assigned to Lord Shiva who is considered to be creator, conservator and destroyer of the mankind altogether."
"The aforesaid scene portrayed Sage Narad, Lord Bholenath and Lord Ram as the characters of a play. Devakinandan is also the character talking to another character Kailash. Both these names are of Lord Krishna and Lord Shiva. These characters are part of the religious faith of the majority community of India and their use by filmmakers inoffensive way is bound to hurt the sentiments of the majority community of the country," the HC said, referring to a petitioner's plea that some scenes were removed.
The court stated that the removal of the scene after it was streamed "would not absolve the accused persons of the offence committed by them", adding that the disputed scenes "are likely to cause disturbance and threats to public order".
"The public blowing whistles and claps show that the revered characters of the faith of the majority community of India have been portrayed in a very cheap and objectionable way," the court said.
The court observed, "the dialogue between the two Hindu Gods in episode 1 is shown in a very insidious manner". "Devakinandan is abusing the man of lower caste working as a cobbler. Comment has been made regarding grant of reservation to Scheduled Castes," it said.
The HC said that respect for all religions was the intention of the framers of the Constitution of India and every citizen has been granted liberty to practice, profess and propagate his or her religion.
The court noted, "whenever such crimes are committed by some citizens of the country, then forces inimical to the interest of this country become active and protest against it on different national and international forums alleging that the Indian citizens have become intolerant and India has become an unsafe place to live".
The court also pointed that Indian diplomacy has to endure a difficult time protecting the interest of the country and assuring the international community that the protests made against such acts are stray and not a mark of any intolerance in the country as a whole.
"Western filmmakers have refrained from ridiculing Lord Jesus or the Prophet but Hindi filmmakers have done this repeatedly and still doing this most unabashedly with the Hindu Gods and Godesses," the order said.
Referring to the recent case of stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui, the court said "things are worsening as is evident from the fact that an obscure stand-up comedian, Munawar Faruqui, from Gujarat made comments on Hindu God and Goddesses in a new year show at Indore and gained undue publicity on being arrested in a case".
The court also listed films such as Ram Teri Ganga Maili, Satyam Shivam Sundram, P.K. and Oh My God and also said that "efforts have been made to subvert the image of historical and mythological personalities".
"The young generation of the country, which is not much aware of the social and cultural heritage of this country, gradually starts believing what is shown in the movies by the people like the accused persons in the present movie in dispute and thereby, it destroys the basic concept of the survival of this country having tremendous diversity of all kinds as a united nation," the court said.
"On the one hand, the sentiments of majority community have been hurt by the display of the characters of their faith in a disrespectful manner and on the other hand, an attempt has been made to widen the gap between the higher castes and the Scheduled Castes," said the court order.
The court also said Purohit was granted interim protection from arrest on February 11, "but she was not cooperating with the investigation".
"This conduct of the applicant shows that she has scant respect for the law of the land and her conduct further disentitles her to any relief from this court since co-operation with the investigation is a necessary condition for grant of anticipatory bail," the Allahabad HC said.