Bombay HC Dismisses Plea To Remove 'Terrorist' Remarks For 'Bhindrawale' From Text Books, Says It Is Mere Reference To Operation Blue Star [Read Order]

Bombay HC Dismisses Plea To Remove

The Bombay High Court on Thursday dismissed writ petition filed by petitioner Amrit Pal Singh Khalsa that asked the court for deletion of reference to Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale as "terrorist" in Class IX History textbooks.

A bench of Justice(s) Bharati H Dangre and SC Dharmadhikari pronounced the judgment, which was reserved on the 5th of December, 2018.

The grounds in the petition did not impress the bench and they disagreed with the contention of counsel for petitioner that a 'saint' is projected as a terrorist.

The court remarked: "It is merely a reference to the operation carried out in the Golden Temple. […]If viewed broadly and particularly in the backdrop of the duty and function of a Bureau preparing the prescribed textbooks for school going students, all the more we do not think that this is a fit case for interference in writ jurisdiction. We do not find any merit in the writ petition."

The court impressed upon the fact that it has to be hands-off in certain matters and must show deference to decisions of expert committees on matters they have been given power to take a call on. It said further that in matters of such a nature and where power is conferred on a statutory authority to prescribe [text] books and draft a syllabus, a certain latitude and discretion is assumed to have been given to them. The exercise of discretion, it said, cannot be a subject matter of judicial review on all occasions, except when there are clear situations of abuse of such discretionary power.

It placed reliance on Basavaiah (Dr.) v. Dr. H.L. Ramesh and Ors. (2010) 8 SCC 372, in which the Supreme Court had held that courts have to show deference and consideration to the decisions of the expert committees consisting of distinguishing persons in the field.

Rejecting the contention that the textbook allegedly referred to Saint Bhindrawale and shaheeds protecting the Golden Temple as "terrorists" and that it hurts the religious sentiments of the Sikh Community, the court said:

"[…] the Operation Blue Star is referred to and it is termed as a military expedition taken up with a particular objective. That is how it is described as an operation. The Operation Blue Star was undertaken to evict the terrorists hiding in the Golden Temple. It is in this context that we must read the alleged offending sentences and we do not see any insulting or irreverential reference therein to anybody much less Shri. Bhindranwale. The contents of the Chapter [in the text book] do not term him as a terrorist. If the Chapter is read as a whole and harmoniously, the alleged offending portion is perused in its entirety, then, we do not find anything therein which would hurt the religious sentiments of the Sikh community."

The court also refuted the contention of the petitioner that such references in the textbook would influence the mind of the innocent students or readers of the textbook leading to development of hatred in young impressionable minds. It said:

"[…] a broad picture is painted before the reader and he/she is not likely to be influenced eitherway. It is not a one-sided version. It gives a balanced picture. It is a study material and prescribed for a student of IXth Standard who will [be] taking the examinations. We do not think that in such a material we should read something more."

Amrit Pal Singh had filed the petition last year alleging that the Maharashtra State Bureau of Textbooks Production and Curriculum Research had spread "vicious propaganda against the Sikh Struggle Movement" and had hurt their religious sentiments by referring to Shaheed Bhindrawale along with other shaheeds as "terrorists".

Operation Blue Star was the codename of an Indian military action carried out between 1 and 8th of June 1984 to remove militant religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers from the buildings of the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) complex in Amritsar, Punjab. The military action in the temple complex was criticized by Sikhs worldwide, who interpreted it as an assault on the Sikh religion.

Read the Order Here