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Freedom of speech and expression has limits, says Supreme Court

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

The Supreme Court on Thursday declared that freedom of speech and expression has “constitutional limitation attached to it” and it has to be given a broad canvas. This right cannot be exercised to attribute obscene expletives to “historically respected personality” such as Mahatma Gandhi.

A bench of Justices, Dipak Misra and Prafulla C. Pant, said, “Freedom of speech and expression has to be given a broad canvas, but it has to have inherent limitations which are permissible within the constitutional parameters.”

“We have already opined that freedom of speech and expression as enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution is not absolute in view of Article 19(2) of the Constitution,” they added.

“We reiterate the said right is a right of great value and transcends and with the passage of time and growth of culture, it has to pave the path of ascendancy, but it cannot be put in the compartment of absoluteness. There is constitutional limitation attached to it,” the bench said.

The bench set these standards while hearing the plea of Devidas Ramachandra Tuljapurkar, editor and publisher of a bulletin magazine of All India Bank Employees Association, who was charged with publishing the “obscene” Marathi poem titled Gandhi Mala Bhetala (I Met Gandhi) authored by Vasant Dattatray Gujjar in which Gandhi’s character was ridiculed. The poem was published in 1994 in an in-house bank magazine.

The apex court said in its judgment:

When the name of Mahatma Gandhi is alluded or used as a symbol, speaking or using obscene words, the concept of “degree” comes in. To elaborate, the “contemporary community standards test” becomes applicable with more vigour, in a greater degree and in an accentuated manner. What can otherwise pass of the contemporary community standards test for use of the same language, it would not be so, if the name of Mahatma Gandhi is used as a symbol or allusion or surrealistic voice to put words or to show him doing such acts which are obscene.

The contemporary community standards test is a parameter for adjudging obscenity, and in that context, the words used or spoken by a historically respected personality is a medium of communication through a poem or write-up or other form of artistic work gets signification, the top court said.

“We have already opined that by bringing in a historically respected personality to the arena of section 292 IPC, neither a new offence is created nor an ingredient is interpreted,” the court said. “In the context of obscenity, the provision enshrined under the Indian Penal Code’s section 292 (sale, etc., of obscene books, etc.) has its room to play,” Justice Pant added.

In 1994, after watching the poem in bank premises, Patit Pawan Sanghtan had filed the complaint against the publisher and the author of the poem. Both the trial court and the Bombay High Court declined to unsaddle them of the obscenity charge although they were charged of creating enmity between different sections.

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Astronaut Floats in Space on Mural Sporting a Gandhi Patch on Shoulder

The mural that looks up from the vista that opens to the iconic glass-fronted UN building a block away commemorates the occasions

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Mahatma, Gandhi, library, Kenya, Inauguration
India has fulfilled its promise of renovating Mahatma Gandhi library in Kenya in a record time of less than three years. Wikimedia Commons

The high-tech future of green jobs and the Gandhian virtue of the dignity of work meld their messages on a six-storey high mural commemorating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and the centenary of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Sporting a Mahatma Gandhi patch on his shoulder, an astronaut floats in space on the mural painted on the side wall of the Indian Mission to the UN that was inaugurated on Tuesday.

The mural that looks up from the vista that opens to the iconic glass-fronted UN building a block away commemorates the occasions.

The other themes on the mural, a joint effort of the ILO and the Indian mission, include the concept of “green”, environmentally sustainable jobs and the greening of the world by planting trees.

India’s Permanent Representative Syed Akbaruddin said at the inauguration that the mural addresses global concerns of decent jobs and the environment.

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Sporting a Mahatma Gandhi patch on his shoulder, an astronaut floats in space on the mural painted on the side wall of the Indian Mission to the UN. Pixabay

He said the mural effort goes beyond the diplomatic work at the UN of dealing with resolutions to a new diplomatic area of reaching out to people to create broader awareness of issues.

Victor Ash, the artist who painted it while perched high on a cherry-picker, told IANS: “I mixed different ideas and came up with this ‘green astronaut’ that is also worker – the worker from the future who would be working in space.”

And to commemorate the anniversary of Gandhi’ birth, he said he added Gandhi’s image as a logo on the arm of the astronaut.

Ash said that one of his inspirations was India’s record in 2017 of planting 66 million trees on a single day.

The mission building with a red-stone facade was designed by the internationally acclaimed Indian architect Charles Correa, but one of its sides was bared to the bricks after the neighbouring building was torn down and a hotel was built on the site with a deep setback.

The mural now decorates that side without impinging on the building’s Correa design.

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The other themes on the mural, a joint effort of the ILO and the Indian mission, include the concept of “green”, environmentally sustainable jobs and the greening of the world by planting trees. Wikimedia

The mural was one of several sponsored across the city by ILO to commemorate its centenary with a project called Street Art for Mankind that aims to spread the message of decent work for all with sustainable development and social justice.

Portugal-born Ash said that he had painted a mural at the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai during its Summerfest.

He said that he had started as a street-artist in Paris, where he had studied, and later went into doing paintings for galleries.

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“But it was only the studio work and exhibiting in galleries was not reaching such a broad public,” he said.

“So I went back to the street and did murals because it has a much bigger impact and you can actually transmit messages much better than just exhibiting in galleries for a few specific people.” (IANS)