Freedom Of Expression Always Gets Challenged When It Touches Upon Religious Beliefs: Madras HC [Read Order]

Freedom Of Expression Always Gets Challenged When It Touches Upon Religious Beliefs: Madras HC [Read Order]

“It is one thing to make reckless and derogatory remarks against religious beliefs and it is entirely another thing to express the opinion after reading the entire literature/history of various characters were revered as god or goddess in the society.”

The freedom of expression always gets challenged when it touches upon religious beliefs, said the Madras High Court while granting bail to a man accused of making derogatory comments on Prophet Mohammad.

Justice Anand Venkatesh observed that the article published by R. Kalyanaraman only reveals his understanding about the history of prophet. He has not straight away made any derogatory remarks against the Prophet Mohammed, and has only expressed the manner in which, he had understood the history about the Prophet Mohammed and his family, the court said, after perusing the article.

Prosecution had objected to his bail plea contending that the article written by him would result in enmity on the ground of religion and will cause disharmony, hatred, and ill-will between different religions. He was arrested and remanded to judicial custody for offences under various IPC provisions including 153A and 295A.

Senior Advocate S. Prabakaran, who appeared for Kalyanaraman, mainly relied on the judgment in Tamilselvan vs. Government of Tamil Nadu. Taking note of the contentions, the court observed:

"The freedom of expression always gets challenged when it touches upon religious beliefs. There were occasions when similar such articles have been written questioning the history of Jesus Christ in the book of the 'Da Vinci Code'. Even in this state there are articles return touching upon the life of Sita in Ramayana. It is one thing to make reckless and derogatory remarks against religious beliefs and it is entirely another thing to express the opinion after reading the entire literature/history of various characters were revered as god or goddess in the society. Not every expression will qualify itself to bring disharmony between various sects or groups and this have been clearly brought out by this Court in the judgement in S. Tamil Selvan referred Supra. This court has category held that there is always a presumption in favour of free speech and expression unless it falls within the domain of reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India."

Tamil Selvan Judgment

This judgment, authored by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul (then CJ of Madras HC), issued following guidelines.

  • There is bound to be a presumption in favour of free speech and expression as envisaged under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India unless a court of law finds it otherwise as falling within the domain of a reasonable restriction under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India. This presumption must be kept in mind if there are complaints against publications, art, drama, film, song, poem, cartoons or any other creative expressions.
  • The State's responsibility to maintain law and order would not permit any compulsion on the artistes concerned to withdraw from his/her stand and non-State players cannot be allowed to determine what is permissible and what is not.
  • It is high time the Government constitutes an expert body to deal with situations arising from such conflicts of views, such expert body to consist of qualified persons in the branch of creative literature and art so that an independent opinion is forthcoming, keeping in mind the law evolved by the judiciary. Such an expert body or panel of experts would obviate the kind of situations we have seen in the present case. In such matters of art and culture, the issue cannot be left to the police authorities or the local administration alone, especially when there is a spurt in such conflicts.
  • The State has to ensure proper police protection where such authors and artistes come under attack from a section of the society.
  • Regular programmes need to be conducted for sensitizing officials over matters dealing with such conflicts of artistic and literary appreciation.


Read Order