New Delhi: When the Delhi high court bench headed by Chief Justice A P Shah refused to undertake "moral policing" of the controversial reality show, `Sach Ka Saamna`, (reported by TOI on Thursday), he was giving a demonstration of a liberal principle he had laid down in his historic Section 377 verdict.
For, one of the highlights of the judgment decriminalizing homosexuality is its rejection of the moral arguments that are contrary to law. "Popular morality, as distinct from constitutional morality derived from constitutional values, is based on shifting and subjective notions of right and wrong," the judge had said.
The petition seeking a ban on `Sach Ka Saamna` had effectively invoked popular morality as it was based on the subjective notion that it was wrong to question participants on their sex lives and other such private issues and then embarrass them further with a polygraph or lie-detector test of their replies.
While dismissing the petition against the TV show in the very first hearing, Justice Shah reinforced the liberal approach by saying, "Our culture is not so fragile that it would be affected by one TV programme. Those who don`t want to see it can switch off their TV sets or can watch any other channel."
Taking cue from the court, the government would do well to drop the notice it had issued against the programme in the wake of objections raised by some MPs in Parliament. Rather than bowing to populism, the government should seek to protect the constitutional values of free speech and expression as well as free choice. The lead provided by the high court on the issue of homosexuality has already inspired the government to tell the Supreme Court that it would not ask for a stay of the Section 377 judgment.
The government needs to display a similar change of heart in the TV programme case, especially since the police themselves have often been guilty of indulging in moral policing.
Consider the manner in which the Delhi Police had cracked down on public display of affection (PDA) when they booked a young married couple for obscenity allegedly for kissing on the platform of a metro station. While staying the criminal proceedings in February, Justice S Muralidhar, who incidentally was part of the bench that delivered the Section 377 verdict, said in his order: "It is inconceivable how, even if one were to take what is stated in the FIR to be true, the expression of love by a young married couple in the manner indicated in the FIR would attract the offence of obscenity and trigger the coercive process of law."
While dealing with another glaring instance of moral policing last year, Justice Sanjay Krishan Kaul of the Delhi high court quashed obscenity proceedings against nonagenarian M F Hussain allegedly for erotic portrayals of Hindu goddesses. Describing the moral police as "vandals", the court said, "Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and so does obscenity." If the Delhi high court reacted so adversely on Wednesday to the `Sach ka Saamna` petition brought by two private busybodies, it is in keeping with its enviable record of protecting liberal and constitutional values from moral policing.