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Nanak Shah Fakir: SC Refuses To Deliberate On Rights Of A Religious Denomination Under Article 26(b)

Hearing an application on behalf of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) for vacation of its interim order dated April 10 permitting the exhibition of the film Nanak Shah Fakir, the Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra refused to extend the scope of the primary writ petition to decide the contents of the right under Article 26(b) of a religious denomination to manage its own matters in affairs of religion. “In this petition, we shall not deliberate on the essential practices of a religion…the film in question is only spreading awareness about the philosophy of Guru Nanak, to press his teachings on young minds…Prima facie, there is no connection with the reality; there is only a projection of Guru Nanak on celluloid…if such projection hurts his position in the society, then it is a different issue…,” observed the Chief Justice, refusing to recall the impugned order.

Senior counsel PS Patwalia, appearing on behalf of the SGPC, advanced, “There are two bodies- one, the Akal Takht, which is the highest spiritual body, and secondly, the SGPC, which is a statutory body constituted under the Sikh Gurudwaras Act of 1925…in the Sikh religion, we have no living God…there is a resolution dated July 10, 2003 of the SGPC, restraining any living person from playing any of the ten ‘Guru Sahiban’, their family members or the ‘Panj Pyaras’ in a depiction…on April 7, 2015, there was a reiteration of this resolution in the particular context of the film ‘Nanak Shah Fakir’…these resolutions have not been placed before Your Lordships…after the CBFC and its examining committee certified the film for exhibition, on April 6, the Akal Takht decided that the movie ought to be banned…this fact was not brought to Your Lordships’ notice…Subsequently, on April 7, the SGPC repeated that the movie may not be screened…”

“The movie has not been released so far…but this is not a matter that they (the producers) should have brought to the courts…this should have been resolved within the community…the issue herein is, I believe, covered under the right of Sikhs to manage their own religion as per Article 26(b)…besides, the matter includes an element of concealment in so far as the court was not informed of the aforesaid resolutions…”, he continued.

In response to a query in that behalf by the Chief Justice, he stated, “there has been no depiction on the celluloid of any Sikh Gurus till date…there has only been one animated film by the name of ‘Chaar Sahebzaade’…”
The senior counsel also objected to the use of the phraseology ‘private body’ in respect of the Akal Takht and the SGPC. The Chief Justice agreed to clarify that the same are “recognised bodies” and their status is not being questioned.

On Monday, veteran lawyer and senior counsel Ram Jethmalani, in response to the SGPC’s argument, submitted, “every religion has its rules but these rules have no legal force…can religious principles acquire the character of legal injunctions? Can we bar a movie that has Rs. 30 crores riding on it because of the rule that no human being may play the role of the revered Sikh Guru? There may be discussions in this behalf at the relevant forum but there cannot be any legal relief…they may use their political or public influence but cannot come to the court of law…”

Senior counsel RS Suri, appearing for the main petitioner and the producer of the film, submitted, “The sub-committee of the SGPC had directed that certain rectifications may be brought about in the film…that in place of the actor playing Guru Nanak, light may be shown…that the philosophy of Guru Nanak may be represented through words of ‘Bhai Mardana’…that the scene involving the smoking of the ‘hookah’ may be deleted…that the film end with the prevailing words ‘Nanak Shah Fakir, Hindu Ka Guru, Musalman ka Pir”…all these modifications were duly effected.”

“This was only the intervening document. The final decision is that of April 6,” objected Patwalia.
Suri also drew the attention of the bench to a letter addressed by a member of the Akal Takht stating that film is “praiseworthy” and a “fine example of the promotion of the Sikh faith”, and that the film has been conferred the National Award for depicting national integrity. He asserted that the film represents the respected Sikh Guru in good light, as being opposed to casteism, and that the movie has received commendable response from Malaysia, Hong Kong and regions in Africa. He also expressed the willingness to make such further modifications to the movie as the religious experts may recommend.

In context of the National Award, the Chief Justice remarked that the film has been duly displayed to a jury and refused to lay weight on Patwalia’s contention that it was not exhibited before the Sikh community and that the said award was won in the category for ‘regional films’.

“Your Lordships have now given the power to contravene the stipulations of the religious bodies”, insisted Patwalia, which claim the bench declined to entertain.

“We cannot enforce a rule that no one may write a book on a religion or make a painting so based…these are secular matters…you could only make a submission that the image (of Guru Nanak) is being degraded in the depiction…,” noted Justice DY Chandrachud.

“You may also make the submission that the actor playing Guru Nanak may not be given any credit…he shall be an abstract man…he may be regarded as ‘X’…,” added the Chief Justice.
“The question is of the glory of Guru Nanak…”, concluded the Chief Justice, scheduling the matter for hearing in May.

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