17/04/2015 9:49 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Supreme Court: Putting Indecent Words In Mahatma Gandhi's Mouth Isn't Artistic Freedom

NIKLAS HALLE'N via Getty Images
A recently unveiled statue of Mahatma Gandhi is seen in Parliament square in central London on March 14, 2015. A statue of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi was unveiled on Saturday at the symbolic heart of the British establishment that once loathed him for his campaign against imperial rule. Gandhi joins figures including Britain's World War II leader Winston Churchill, who described him as a half-naked 'fakir', in London's Parliament Square, opposite Big Ben and the House of Commons. AFP PHOTO / NIKLAS HALLE'N (Photo credit should read NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI — The Supreme Court today reserved its verdict on a plea of a bank employee who was made an accused in 1994 for publishing allegedly vulgar, obscene and indecent poems, penned by Marathi poet Vasant Dattatraya Gurjar, on Mahatma Gandhi.

A bench comprising justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C Pant said it would decide as to whether putting "indecent words" in the "mouth of Mahatma Gandhi" by the poet falls under the ambit of freedom of speech and expression or not.

"The issue of linguistic freedom qua Mahatma Gandhi is bothering us. It is a question of statutory or constitutional comfort," the bench said.

The difference between "freedom of idea" and "freedom of words" has to be understood, it said and posed that though a person may have liberty of thought, but could these be put in an indecent manner in somebody's mouth.

The bench further said that while projecting a view, one cannot put "abusive" words in a person's mouth to "accentuate the sensationalism".

Senior advocate Gopal Subramanium, appearing for accused Devidas Ramchandra Tuljapurkar, referred to constitutional schemes on fundamental rights and the decisions of European Court of Human Rights and said, "tolerance to disagree-ability is the character of democracy."

"There is nothing called absolute freedom, but freedom of ideas can only be enjoyed through words," he said.

Referring to the poem 'Gandhi Mala Bhetala Hota', written by Gurjar in 1984, the lawyer submitted that the people who know Marathi say that the poem is "satirical".

The bench was hearing the appeal of Tuljapurkar against a Bombay High Court order dismissing his plea seeking quashing of his prosecution under section 292 (sale, publication of obscene books) under the IPC.

For a first-time offender, the penal provision prescribes maximum two years of jail term and a fine of Rs 2,000.

The poem was published in the in-house magazine of the Bank of Maharashtra Employees Union in 1994. Tuljapurkar, the General Secretary of the Bank Union, was the magazine editor and has been facing charges of publishing the 'vulgar and obscene' poem since then.

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