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Tandav Case: Allahabad HC rejects anticipatory bail plea of Amazon Prime Video India’s Head of Content

The Allahabad High Court, on Thursday, rejected an anticipatory bail plea filed by Amazon Prime Video’s India content head, Aparna Purohit, noting that the web series Tandav included scenes that intentionally used names of Hindu deities to convey an “insidious message”. While pronouncing its order, the court held that insulting Hindu deities has now become a trend, which has been passed down by movies.

“Western filmmakers have refrained from ridiculing Lord Jesus or the Prophet but hindi filmmakers have done this repeatedly and still doing this most unabashedly with the Hindu Gods and Godesses. Things are worsening as is evident from the fact that an obscure stand-up comedian, Munawar Faruqui, from Gujarat made comments on Hindu God and Godesses in a new year show at Indore and gained undue publicity on being arrested in a case.”— Allahabad High Court

The court held that a number of films have been made to hurt Hindu sentiments, and “this tendency on the part of the hindi film industry is growing and if not curbed in time, it may have disastrous consequences for the Indian social, religious and communal order.”

Purohit, Amazon Prime Video’s India content head, filed an anticipatory bail plea against a First Information Report filed at the Rabupura Police Station, in the Gautam Buddh Nagar district in Uttar Pradesh. Tandav, a show on Amazon Prime Video had run into controversy for allegedly hurting Hindu sentiments. Ten similar FIRs and four criminal complaints were filed against makers of the show across the country.

A single-judge bench of Justice Siddharth held that Purohit “had not been vigilant and has acted irresponsibly making her open to criminal prosecution in permitting streaming of a movie which is against the fundamental rights of the majority of citizens of this country and therefore, her fundamental right of life and liberty cannot be protected by grant of anticipatory bail.”

In response to the backlash, the show’s creators tendered an unconditional apology, and had also removed the controversial scenes. However, the Allahabad High Court held that “the irresponsible conduct against the inherent mandate of the Constitution of India by anyone affecting the fundamental rights of the large number of citizens cannot be acquiesced to only because of the tendering of unconditional apology after committing the alleged act of crime and indiscretion.”

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During the hearing, Uttar Pradesh’s Advocate General Raghvendra Singh argued that since a number of FIRs were filed against the show, it shows that merely one person was not affected by the depiction in the show. “It is not a stray case of some over-sensitive individual lodging the F.I.R against the applicant and other co- accused persons regarding objectionable character and content of the web series in dispute,” he told the court.

“Even if there is no regulatory body to grant certificate of fitness to the movies being streamed online, it was the duty of the applicant to see that the contents of disputed movie are not such which may be detrimental to the social, communal, religious and political peace of the country. Entertainment at the cost of the fundamental rights of large sections of society is not as per the aim and object of the Constitution of India. Right to freedom of profession cannot be permitted to override the right to freedom of religion.” — Uttar Pradesh’s Advocate General in Allahabad High Court

‘Disclaimers are not enough’: What Allahabad High Court said

“The reference to the disclaimer cannot be considered to be a ground for absolving the applicant of permitting the streaming of an objectionable movie online,” the court held.

On Tandav’s satirical portrayal of a student staging a play where he portrays Hindu god Shiva discussing his social media presence, the court said that these characters are part of the religious faith of the majority community of India and their use by filmmakers in an offensive way is bound to hurt their sentiments.

“The advice of Sage Narad to Lord Shiva to make some inflammatory tweet on the Twitter like all the students of the campus becoming traitors and raising slogans of freedom clearly alludes to the incidents which took place in Jawaharlal Nehru University and therefore, it can be considered to be a message of hate advanced through the movie…The alluding to Lord Rama gaining popularity on social media is clear pointer to the dispute regarding the construction of Lord Ram’s temple.” — Allahabad High Court

In fact, the court held that the name of the show itself could be considered offensive.

“The use of the word “TANDAV” as the name of the movie can be offensive to the majority of the people of this country since this word is associated with a particular act assigned to Lord Shiva who is considered to be creator, conservator and destroyer of the mankind all together.” — Allahabad High Court

Clear intention to humiliate women of scheduled castes: “There is clear intention of humiliating the women of scheduled caste since it is clear from the scenes in episode 6 where it has been mentioned that when a man of lower caste dates a woman of higher caste, he is taking revenge for the centuries of atrocities from that one woman is certainly bound to affect the social harmony,” the court said.

‘Forces inimical to India try and malign India’s international image’: “Whenever such crimes are committed by some citizens of the country, like the applicant and her co-accused persons, and it is made the subject matter of demonstration and public protest, the forces inimical to the interest of this country become active and they make it an issue and raise it before different national and international forums alleging that the Indian citizens have become intolerant and “India” has become unsafe place to live,” the Allahabad HC said.

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India notifies rules governing Netflix, Amazon Prime Video

On Thursday, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology notified the Information Technology Rules, 2021, under which all streaming services will now be required by law to accept complaints from viewers, and on top of the self-regulation system they created to avoid government regulation, they will now be subject to two layers of oversight. The first layer (after individual streaming services’ own grievance officers) will be a self-regulatory organisation (likely the Internet and Mobile Association of India’s Digital Entertainment Committee, or the recently announced IAMAI Secretariat). This layer is required to be headed by a retired high court or Supreme Court justice.

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