New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday restrained Rajasthan Police from arresting sociologist Ashis Nandy against whom FIRs have been filed for making uncharitable comments about Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes but asked him to be careful in his statements.
A bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, Justice Anil R Dave and Justice Vikramajit Sen also issued notice to the central and Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Bihar governments on Nandy`s petition seeking to restrain any action on the spate of FIRs filed against him. The notice is returnable in four weeks.
Staying his arrest, the court, however, said that Nandy had no licence to make statements that hurt others.
"Advise your client that he has no right to make such comments," Chief Justice Kabir told counsel Aman Lekhi appearing for Nandy.
Told that Nandy did not intend to denigrate any section of society, the court said: "Forget about intentions, and be careful."
When Lekhi asked if law could penalise an idea, Chief Justice Kabir snapped back: "Yes, why not. When it (an idea) is not in public interest."
Asked whether Nandy was supporting the idea articulated by him, he said: "It is not a question of an idea but the way it is said."
"Each person has his ideas, but it should not disturb others. In the context of an idea, you can`t go on making such remarks," Chief Justice Kabir said, adding that statements have to be made "in a responsible manner".
The FIRs were filed after Nandy, speaking at a panel discussion at the Jaipur Literary Festival on January 26, contended that "corruption" was a leveller in India, and that long-deprived sections of society were turning to it too in a bid to wrest power and wealth forcibly from an established elite.
As Lekhi contended what has been attributed to Nandy was an idea not intended to denigrate any particular section of the society, the Chief Justice pointed to an advocate, from a weaker section of society, seeking permission to assist the court as he was aggrieved by Nandy`s comments. This advocate was asked to file his application and the court would consider it.
Lekhi came in for some drubbing from the court when he submitted that a "hysteria is being created".
Not pleased with the submission, the court asked him: "Who is saying it? Don`t say it."
"Has your client asked you to say it? Why are you saying it," the court asked.
To buttress his plea, Lekhi said that in a mature democracy there has to be some space for contrary views.
The counsel said that under the law that was only one FIR of an incident, but in this case FIRs have been filed in several places including Jaipur, Nashik, Raipur and Patna, adding that in one instance, a sedition case has been booked against Nandy.
Nandy had moved the apex court seeking quashing of a FIR against him by the Rajasthan government for making some controversial remarks against the marginalized sections of the society at the just concluded Jaipur literary festival.
Nandy, who has been charged with an offence attracting punishment for criminal intimidation and Section 3(1)(x) of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, has urged the court to issue necessary guidelines to ascertain what constitute an offence under the latter provision.
He has also sought guidelines by the apex court so this provision could not be "misused to hamper freedom of speech and expression and also to set out the circumstances in which alone the police officials may investigate and initiate penal action under the said Act".
The offence under Section 3(1)(x) is non-bailable and even anticipatory bail is denied under Section 18 of the act, the petition said.
Nandy has contended that the registration of the FIR by Rajasthan Police was "an abuse of law" and he was denied his fundamental rights under Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution, because of the clamour for his immediate arrest from important political personalities including Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati and SC/ST chairman PL Punia.