N. Radhakrishnan v. Union of India

After reading this judgement, you will learn how the Supreme Court examined a book when the petitioner alleged obscenity and defamation in the book.
CITATIONWrit Petition (Civil) 904/2018
COURTSupreme Court of India
JUDGES/CORAMChief Justice Deepak Mishra,
DATE OF JUDGEMENT05.09.2018

Introduction

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in N Radhakrishnan v. Union of India and Ors dismissed a petition to ban a book stating that the language used in the book could not remotely be said to be obscene, and while the language may be disliked by some people, it is not a ground for a Constitutional Court to ban a literary work. The Petitioner filed a Writ Petition seeking a ban on a book titled ‘Meesha’ on the ground that a part of the book was obscene and offended women belonging to a particular faith. The dialogue in the book that was primarily alleged to be obscene was a dialogue where the protagonist’s friend, in a conversation with the protagonist, says that women will wear their best clothes when going to the temple to proclaim that they are ready to enter into sex.

Facts

The facts of the case are as follows: The Petitioner filed a Petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India in the Hon’ble Supreme Court seeking a ban on a book titled ‘Meesha’ (meaning, Moustache) which “appeared in a popular Malayalam weekly ‘Mathrubhumi’, published from Kozikhode, Kerala and circulated throughout the country and abroad”. The book was the narration of the life-story of protagonist Vavachan who became famous for his mustache that was symbolic of defiance to the upper caste persons of his village. The dialogue in the book that was primarily alleged to be obscene was a dialogue where Vavachan’s friend, in a conversation with Vavachan, says that women by wearing their best clothes when going to the temple are “unconsciously proclaiming that they are ready to enter into sex”.

The Petition was filed against the Chief Editor of the Magazine, the Union of India and the State of Kerala. The Petitioner sought the seizure all copies of the magazine from July 2018 that contained the allegedly obscene paragraphs; directions to prevent any further publication/circulation of the novel in the form of a book or on the internet and lastly, prayed to issue directions to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, to “frame such guidelines as to prevent the recurrence of such instances which have the tendency to cause threat to the integrity of the society and the safety of women”.

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Issues

The main issue in the case was: Whether the allegedly obscene and defamatory portion of the book was an aberration of such magnitude that it could “potentiality disturbs the public order, decency or morality,” thus inviting imposition of reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

Summary of court decision and judgment

The three-judge bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court dismissed the petition on the touchstone of pragmatic realism and on the principle that creative voices cannot be stifled. The Court held that it could not be denied that the plots and sub-plots of the narrative were a manifestation of creativity. The characteristics of the protagonist may either evoke feelings of empathy from the reader of feelings of contempt but the Court was not to be swayed by any kind of perception. No matter which of these feelings are evoked in the Court’s mind, it could not be denied that the dialogue to which the objection is raised is not an intrusion to create sensation but a facet of projection of the characters. The Court held that the language used in the dialogue cannot remotely be thought of as obscene and the concept of defamation does not arise. Ld. Bench held that a reader’s dislike towards a particular manner of expression would not warrant the Court to ban the book.

To conclude, the Hon’ble Court held that the culture of banning books directly impacts the free flow of ideas and any direct or veiled censorship or ban of a book, unless defamatory or derogatory to any community for abject obscenity, would create unrest and disquiet among the intelligentsia. The Court affirmed that we do not live in a totalitarian regime but in a democratic nation, which permits the free exchange of ideas and liberty of thought and expression.

Analysis

An appreciable factor of the decision is that the Hon’ble Apex Court after referring to the plethora of decisions and due application of mind to the issue at hand expanded freedom of expression by reaffirming the principle that a reader’s grave dislike of a manner of expression does not warrant the banning of a literary work by a Court. In a strong statement, Hon’ble Court held that the culture of banning books directly or indirectly impacts the free flow of ideas and is an affront to the freedom of speech, thought, and expression in a democracy.

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Conclusion

This landmark ruling goes a long way to affirm that the indispensable freedom of expression cannot be crucified at the altar of loosely defined yardstick of offensive speech or grave dislike since it is essential to make democracy a living reality.