“Open criticism of Government policies and operations is not a ground for restricting expression. We must practice tolerance to the views of others.” The Madras High Court, last week, observed that a Governmental Body like World Tamil Sangam should not side with people protesting against a book by denying permission to its author to use their hall for the book release. Justice GR Swaminathan observed that intolerance is dangerous to democracy and there should be a free trade in ideas. T. Lajapathi Roy, Lawyer and Author, had approached the High court, challenging denial of permission to use conference hall of World Tamil Sangam, for hosting the book release function of his latest work: “History of Nadars – Black or Saffron?”. The permission was denied on the ground that the event is likely to generate controversy as matter pertains to religious community.
Disagreeing with denial of permission to use the conference hall on this ground, Justice Swaminathan said:
Another reason for denying permission was that, those who hold contrary views on the government are participating as chief guests. The court observed that this could not be a valid reason at all to deny permission. It said
“The petitioner has authored a book giving his perspective on the history of Nadars. One may wonder whether the social past of a community can be stereotyped into particular categories. One may even think whether the past can be painted with a specific colour or hue. It is quite possible that the history of Nadars is neither wholly black nor saffron. It may be shaded with a colour that defies a label. These are all matters of individual opinion. The petitioner is therefore definitely entitled to put forth his view point. One may agree or not agree with his “take” on the history of Nadars. But then, those who disagree with the author have to come up with a counter narrative and presentation. They cannot seek to stifle or restrain the petitioner from putting forth his view point.
The second respondent being a governmental body ought to stay neutral in such matters. They cannot side with the persons protesting against the book.” Another reason for denying permission was that, those who hold contrary views on the government are participating as chief guests. The court observed that this could not be a valid reason at all to deny permission. It said “It is true that the meeting is to be addressed by a prominent political leader belonging to the opposition D.M.K party. Thiru. Suba. Udhayakumar an anti nuclear energy activist is also scheduled to participate.
This cannot be a ground at all for denying permission to the petitioner. While the building was put up by using government funds and it does belong to the government, it does not belong to the ruling party. In a democracy there will be both ruling party and opposition. Elections are periodically conducted to give an opportunity to the people to bring changes in the Government.” The Court also referred to a Kerala High Court judgment in which it had allowed the writ petition filed by local office bearers of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh who were not allowed to use a government high school.
It also referred to Calcutta HC judgment on the plea by Usha Uthup who was denied permission to stage her performance in a Government building. Referring to Supreme Court judgment in S.Rangarajan vs. P.Jagjivan Ram, the court observed that a fundamental right of speech and expression can be reasonably restricted only for the purposes mentioned in Articles 19(2) and the restriction must be justified on the anvil of necessity and not the quicks and of convenience or expediency. The court observed: “Open criticism of Government policies and operations is not a ground for restricting expression. We must practice tolerance to the views of others. Intolerance is as much dangerous to democracy as to the person himself.” Directing the Sangam to permit the author to host the book release function in their conference hall, the court concluded with this parting note: Whether the past is black or saffron, let the future be rosy.