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Sunday, June 4, 2023

Tandav FIRs: Actors, makers may face arrest as SC declines protection

Web series ‘Tandav’ actors, makers, including Saif Ali Khan and Ali Abbas Zafar likely face arrest after Supreme Court on Wednesday turned down their pleas for protection from arrest.

A three judge bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan only issued notice on clubbing of various FIRs registered across the country and asked actor Zeeshan Ayyub and others to move to High Courts for quashing of FIRs or bail in the matters.

Senior Advocate Fali S. Nariman requested for an order of no coercive action against the cast and producers of the web series. However, the bench refused to grant relief. “Approach High Court” said the top court. During the hearing the apex court noted that it may consider the request for clubbing the FIRs, but it cannot take the power of the High Court under CrPC.

The observation was made after senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi requested the court to grant the petitioners no coercive step order, club the FIRS and issue notice to the parties.

Ahead of lunch, the top court had orally observed that freedom of speech was not absolute during its hearing on pleas seeking stay on FIRs against actors and producers of Tandav web series on Amazon Prime. Justice Bhushan had expressed its disinclination to pass any direction to stay the FIRs. Senior advocates Fali S. Nariman, Mukul Rohatgi and Siddharth Luthra cited the top court judgment in Arnab Goswami case to seek relief in the matter.

Luthra argued that the director of the web series is being harassed. “Is this way liberty should be protected in the country and FIRs are being filed across the country,” he added. The bench observed that the right to freedom of speech is not absolute and it is subjected to restrictions.

Nariman submitted that apologies have been made, and despite that several FIRs have been filed in six states. Justice Bhushan replied: “You want the FIRs to be quashed, then why can’t you approach the High Courts?”

Nariman said the web series makers have removed the objectionable content and still there are cases being filed against them. The top court questioned, why petitioners have moved the court under Article 32. The bench said the police can file closure reports too if apologies have been made.

Rohatgi cited Arnab Goswami case to move the top court after a violation of Article 19(1)(a). He added people get offended with anything and everything these days. “Please protect us with no coercive steps. We deleted content without any protest. Scenes have been deleted. Its a political satire,” argued Rohatgi.

Rohatgi submitted that People are so sensitive in this country then freedom to speech under 19 (1)(a) would be destroyed.

Lutyens’ lawyers’ contempt for Hindus

The arguments put forward by the country’s top lawyers reflects the sort of anti-Hindu liberal bias that is so deeply rooted among our country’s English-speaking elite.

For the record, Mukul Rohatgi was the attorney general for 3 full years during the first term of the Modi government. A close personal friend of late Arun Jaitley, Rohatgi is believed to be not as viciously anti-Hindu as openly Congress-leaning or Hinduphobic laywers like Sibal, Dushyant Dave, Rajeev Dhawan, Prashant Bhushan, Sanjay Hegde, Indra Jaisingh etc.

But let’s examine what Rohatgi has to say about ‘Tandav’ – a web series which even after protests and scene cuts, continues to presents Bhagwan Shiva in a mocking manner with a bizarre blue cross (a Christian symbol) painted on his face, besides carrying incendiary socio-political propaganda at a time when the country has been wracked by violent protests stoked by #BreakingIndia forces.

Rohatgi cities the Arnab Goswami case, creating a completely false equivalence. Supreme Court granted relief to Arnab after he had languished in jail for 6 days over an abetment to suicide charge in a commercial dispute case. That was a clear case of political vendetta by the Maharashtra government and the SC bench said as much in its ruling.

If parallels must be drawn, we can look at the Kamlesh Tiwari case or the ban on the movie Vishwaroopam. Kamlesh was jailed for close to an year under the draconian NSA for allegedly making off-hand remarks against Islam’s prophet in a closed door meeting. And we must not forget the purported provocation behind Kamlesh’s alleged remarks: SP leader Azam Khan’s comment that ‘RSS workers are homosexuals’. The charge against Kamlesh Tiwari was never proved, yet he was hounded by mobs across the country and eventually murdered by Islamic fanatics. Not one Lutyens’ lawyer, including Rohatgi, ever spoke about his fundamental rights. As for Vishwaroopam, the Kamal Hasaan directed movie was opposed by Muslim groups in TN, for a mere scene showing a bearded Muslim terrorist outside Bharat performing Islamic prayers, which is indeed a common occurrence in places like Pakistan & Afghanistan. Hasaan agreed to screen the movie before release to Islamic bodies for their approval, yet the movie was banned in TN by CM Jayalalitha and other parts of the south, and the ban was upheld by Madras High Court!

Or Rohatgi can look at the case of P Naveen, nephew of a Congress MLA, who’s alleged FB post about Islam’s prophet was so offensive to Muslims that they went on a rampage targeting police, public property and the MLA and his neighbour’s house! Naveen was kept in jail for over two months before getting bail, despite the fact that his post was deleted within minutes and despite the apologies offered by him and his family.

The makers of ‘Tandav’ need to face the full force of the law. The half-apology posted by director Ali Abbas Zafar, wherein he ‘takes cognisance’ of concerns and apologises if ‘unintentionally someone’s sentiments were hurt’, is immaterial. It can be argued that ‘Tandav’ was the straw that broke the camel’s back – OTT web series have been denigrating Hindu Dharma for so long now that Zafar and his crew probably thought that they could get away with making a mockery of Bhagwan Shiv and Narad Muni. But past apathy of Hindus is no excuse for future Hinduphobia. Ideally, the Tandav issue must become a larger class-action lawsuit against various OTT platforms and makers of shows like Sacred Games, A Simple Murder, Ghoul, Leila etc which have all indulged in good old Hindu bashing.

As for Rohatgi, the least one would have expected from him is some loyalty to the administration which made him Attorney General. The web series which he calls ‘political satire’ is branding Modi as a dictatorial, unethical leader who grabs farm lands for his corporate buddies and kills innocent Muslims for fun. One hopes that the Modi administration develops better sense of who to appoint as the government’s top lawyers, or maybe there are such slim pickings on offer among senior lawyers of the country that likes of Rohatgi become default picks. if that is the case, it is time to throw seniority to the winds and go with someone un-beholden to the Nehruvian lobby like J Sai Deepak instead.

(With IANS inputs)

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