SC protects Nandy, raps him for being irresponsible

The Supreme Court on Friday protected sociologist Ashis Nandy from arrest over his allegedly casteist remark, but also censured him for irresponsibly expressing "ideas" that could hurt people.

A bench led by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir stayed Nandy's arrest in all criminal proceedings arising out of the statement he made at the Jaipur Literature Festival on January 26. The court, however, described the remarks as "unacceptable", and told the sociologist that he had "no licence" to make such statements.

During a panel discussion on types and aspects of corruption, Nandy had said, "It is a fact that most of the corrupt come from the OBCs and the Scheduled Castes, and now increasingly Scheduled Tribes, and as long as this is the case, the Indian republic will survive."

The remark had drawn condemnation, and at least three FIRs, including one in Jaipur, were lodged against him.

Senior advocate Aman Lekhi, who appeared for Nandy, began by asking whether an idea could be penalised under the law. Apparently displeased, the judges responded: "Yes, an idea can certainly be punished under the law. 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 replied that the idea was not punishable at least in this case, because the remark was put out of context and was distorted, and because there was a lack of intent on Nandy's part to hurt anyone.

"It is not just one idea; it's 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 bench said.

"Why do you say something that you don't intend? You are tying yourself up in knots. He cannot continue making statements like this. 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."

Nandy's lawyer questioned the registration of several FIRs for the same comment. The bench replied: "Why not more than one FIR can be lodged? It affects people all over. If people are offended in different parts of the country, there will be many FIRs."

When Lekhi complained that a hysteria had been built, the bench responded: "Who is creating hysteria? It is certainly not us... Who is author of the statement? Who made such statements? Don't blame others for it now."

The bench stayed Nandy's arrest until further orders and issued notices to the Centre and Rajasthan on his plea to quash the FIR. It also issued notices to Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Bihar — where Lekhi said other FIRs had been lodged — and sought a response within four weeks.

Nandy had moved the apex court on Thursday, seeking imminent protection, quashing of the FIRs, and issuance of guidelines to ascertain what constituted an offence under the SC/ST Act in the light of constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression.

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