Supreme Court upholds ban on a Kannada novel on questionable grounds

“Dharmakaarana”, a Kannada novel, might well turn out to be the first work of literature in Indian languages to be banned by the State Government for carrying certain objectionable paragraphs seen to be derogatory by a class of persons, with the Supreme Court rejecting all liberal challenges to the ban.

As indicated in the previous post, the Supreme Court may not have yet pronounced on the legitimacy of the ban imposed by the Maharashtra Government on the book on Chhatrapati Shivaji. But in a ruling, likely to be seen by many as bordering on absurdity, a two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court, on May 2 this year, has upheld the ban imposed by the Karnataka Government on the Kannada novel, Dharmakaarana.

The judgment, which appears to have been missed by the entire media, is interesting for two reasons. One, unlike the Bombay High Court, which rightly believed it was bound by the Supreme Court’s three-Judge Bench Judgment in the Manzar Sayeed Khan case, the B.P.Singh-Bedi Bench in the Sri Baragur Ramachandrappa case did not think so, and has apparently set an unfortunate precedent to Pasayat-Kapadia Bench which is currently hearing Shivaji book ban case. Secondly, the Dharmakaarana judgment is absurd because it cites at length, the same paragraphs, which were found to be objectionable by the Government before imposing the ban. The Dharmakaarana judgment is here.

One of our regular readers, who wishes to remain anonymous, asks:

a)If something is held to be promote feelings of enmity and hatred between different classes of the citizens of India as envisaged under Sections 124-A,153-A,153-B, 292, 293 and 295-A of the Indian Penal Code, do you enshrine the offending portions in a judgment upholding a ban on the book?

b) The Supreme Court has concluded that Section 95 of the Cr.P.C. is not violative of Art.19(1)(a) of the Constitution, as the action taken thereunder is of a preventive nature and that a extremely efficacious remedy under Section 96 of the Code is available to an aggrieved party or person.

The judgment says: “It is significant, and it is clear from the very large number of judgments that have been cited before us, that most of the matters pertain to attacks on minorities or religious and social groups or individuals who are perceived as being prodigals or heretics and therefore unacceptable to the conservatives amongst the mainstream. It cannot ever be over emphasized that India is a country with huge diversities in language and religion and the weaker amongst them must be shown extra care and consideration”.

Our reader asks, after citing this paragraph:“Does it not put a gun in the hands of hardliners who can ban anything that even incidentally comments on some aspect of their cause?”

Mr.Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes:

Thanks very much for your post about Dharamkaaran. I
have mentioned it in at least 6 columns since the
judgment came (the first time was within days of the
judgment),but have been as disappointed as you that no
one has taken it up. It is a dangerous judgment, and
is post facto vindication of “Satanic Verses” ban. The
interesting thing in this case is also the fact that
the High Court said that if the author removed the
offending passges, the book could be circulated. But
the author refused on grounds of “artisitic integrity”
of the work. This “obstinacy” was then taken to be
implicit evidence of malicious intent.

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Dilip Rao
Dilip Rao
14 years ago

P.B.Mehta did criticize this Dharmakaarana opinion at the time in an op-ed in the Indian Express (the link is here).

14 years ago

Thanks for pointing out so many ridiculous laws against free speech and all seem to be with in “reasonable restrictions”. Dhawan is right: When free speech is without any physical force (no one is forced to publish or read a book/painting and people are free to not read/watch bad taste), why should force be used to silence it?

Can someone point out when Article 19(2)was introduced and whether it could have been struck down as abrogating a “basic feature”?

ravi srinivas
ravi srinivas
14 years ago

see also the piece by Noorani ob banning books in the recent issue of EPW.
Is there any article/book which discusses freedom of expression and law in India taking into account
1,the international human rights conventions
2,freedom of expression as a fundamental right, and,
3, the provisions of Cr.P.C
and their interpreatations in
different cases.
Todays Hindu carries an editoral on
freedom of expression and communalism but that does not touch upon many issues and as usual it refers
to the Rangarajan Vs. Jagajivanram
case. I think there are many grey areas in this issue and the interface between Cr.P.C and fundamental rights is important.
Since Cr.P.C is often used to
file cases against artists and
authors understanding the implications of this interface
is crucial.

ravi srinivas
ravi srinivas
14 years ago

what happened to my comment?