19 Aug 2023 10:19 AM GMT
The Madras High Court recently stayed the criminal proceedings against Poet and Assistant Director P Vigneshwaran @ Viduthalai Sigappi for reciting a poem depicting Lord Ram, Lord Hanuman, and Lord Lakshman as manual scavengers. Staying the proceedings in the FIR registered by Abhiramapuram police station, Justice Anand Venkatesh noted that a prima facie case was made...
The Madras High Court recently stayed the criminal proceedings against Poet and Assistant Director P Vigneshwaran @ Viduthalai Sigappi for reciting a poem depicting Lord Ram, Lord Hanuman, and Lord Lakshman as manual scavengers.
Staying the proceedings in the FIR registered by Abhiramapuram police station, Justice Anand Venkatesh noted that a prima facie case was made out.
“Prima facie case is made out and there shall be an order of interim stay pending disposal of the Criminal Original Petition”, the court ordered.
The case against Vigneshwaran was that while participating in a function on April 30, 2023, he recited a poem where Lord Ram, Hanuman, and Lakshman were depicted as manual scavengers and Goddess Sita closes the manhole when the other three were working inside, thereafter fleeing to Srilanka leaving behind a note requesting the readers not to open the manhole.
Claiming that the poem had the potential to inflict mental agony upon a majority of Hindus and was an insult to Hinduism, a case was registered based on a complaint by Suresh Parthasarathy, leader of Bharath Hindu Munnani for offences under Sections 153, 153(1)(a), 295A, 505(1) and 505(2) of the IPC.
Seeking to quash the proceedings against him, Vigneshwaran, who is also an Assistant to Director Pa. Ranjith, said that his intention was not to hurt any person or religion but to articulate the plight of manual scavengers and women. He added that the poem was recited at a literary event organised by a movement fighting casteism and thus, the intention of the poem had to be understood by taking the background into account. He further submitted that expressing the cause of those on whom the practice of manual scavenging is forced upon, through a literal form could not be considered an offence and was in fact protected under the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution.
In his affidavit, Vigneshwaran said that even if the allegations in the complaint were to be taken in its face value and accepted in entirety, it did not constitute an offence. He pointed out that the Indian judiciary has developed a progressive jurisprudence for protection of freedom of speech and expression of artists. Relying upon various decision of the Apex Court, he added that the FIR was bound to be quashed as it was an abuse of process of law.
“In light of the above judgments upholding the spirit of Article 19(1)(a) and artistic freedom, the First Information Report is bound to be quashed as such abuse of process of law will have a chilling effect on the freedom of speech and expression in general and artistic freedom in particular” he said in the affidavit.
Vigneshwaran also added that the ingredient necessary to attract Sections 153, 153A and 295A of the IPC did not exist in the present case as the poem recited by him though had some persons with the names of Hindu Gods or mythical figures, did not involve any other religion or anything capable of promoting disharmony or feeling of enmity, hatred or ill-will between religious groups.
“The poem has nothing to insult or outrage any religious belief or feelings of any class of people. The poem only communicates the plight of a weaker section of the society which is something that has to be considered by everyone to realize the extent of oppression of the fellow beings as such a consideration is essential for obliterating that oppression. Leaving behind the broad meaning of the poem and grumbling it to affront the religious beliefs is unacceptable. The allegation only reveals religious fanaticism and the hatred towards manual scavengers and it is totally erroneous and hence the first essential of Section 295A is not made out,” he said in his affidavit.
Case Title: P Vigneshwaran @ Viduthalai Sigappi v State
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Mad) 232
Case No: Crl OP 17807 of 2023