The Supreme Court on Friday came to the rescue of noted sociologist Ashis Nandy by staying his possible arrest over alleged “casteist” remark at the Jaipur Literature festival.
The court, however, came down heavily on him for making “unacceptable” statement, saying that an “idea” must be expressed with responsibility.
A three-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir questioned him for remarks that could hurt people.
Nandy had on January 26 made a comment that the most corrupt people come from OBC, SC and ST category, igniting strong reactions across the country and leading to registration of several FIRs, including one in Jaipur, against him.
Senior counsel Aman Lekhi, appearing for Nandy, began his arguments by asking if an idea could be punished under the laws.
The bench responded curtly, “Yes, an idea can certainly be punished under the laws. An idea is a summation of verbal acts and it can be penalised. Are you now supporting the idea that you expressed? Your petition says your remark was distorted.”
Lekhi, then, submitted that in this case, there was no intent on the part of Nandy to hurt anyone and the remark was distorted and put out of context.
“It is not just one idea. It is the idea that is creating all sorts of problems. An idea can always hurt people. This is not the way you will express your idea. Something comes in your head and you go on saying it, we are not all happy with it. Why do you make such statements? If statements are to be made, they must be made with a sense of responsibility. Howsoever abstract an idea could be, you cannot go on saying things like this,” the court said.
As Lekhi tried to reason out by saying that his client had no intention of hurting sentiments, the court cut him short.
“Why do you say something that you don’t intend to? You are tying yourself up in knots. Whatever may be your intent you cannot go on making such statements. Tell your client he has no licence to make such comments. We are not going to accept it,” the bench said.
Nandy’s counsel pointed out that FIRs have been registered in all across the country — Raipur, Nasik, Patna and two in Rajasthan — for the same comment. On this, the court said: “Why not? It affects people all over. If people are offended in different parts of the country, there will be many FIRs.”
Lekhi again submitted that an element of hysteria was being created in the country. “Who is creating hysteria? Who is the author of the statement? Who made such statements? Don’t blame others for it now,” the court said. While staying Nandy’s arrest, the apex court sought response from the Centre and the Rajasthan government on his plea to quash the FIRs lodged against him. The court also issued notices to the governments of Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Bihar, seeking response within four weeks.
Nandy, 76, on Thursday approached the apex court, seeking stay of arrest and quashing of FIRs registered against him. He had sought the court to frame necessary guidelines to prevent misuse of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.