The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to grant the makers and actors of Amazon Prime web series Tandav protection from arrest, Live Law reported. Multiple first information reports have been filed against them for allegedly hurting religious sentiments.
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, RS Reddy and MR Shah refused the relief from arrest. “Your right to freedom of speech is not absolute,” the court said, according to the Hindustan Times. “You cannot play the role of character that hurts the sentiments of a community.”
The court, though, issued a notice on their request to club the FIRs filed against them in different states, according to Live Law. The Supreme Court also said that the petitioners were free to approach high Ccourts.
In Wednesday’s proceedings, the series’ director Ali Abbas Zafar, producer Himanshu Krishna Mehra, writer Gaurav Solanki, Amazon Prime’s India Head of Originals Aparna Purohit and actor Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub had approached the Supreme Court for protection from possible arrest.
The petitioners’ lawyer Fali Nariman told the court that cases were being filed against them even after they agreed to remove allegedly objectionable content, Bar and Bench reported.
The bench asked the lawyer why the High Courts could not be approached for the quashing of the FIRs. Nariman submitted that six states have filed FIRs against the show. “And it’s increasing everyday,” he added. “There’s some sort of concert in this and we want to avoid it.”
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi also argued on behalf of the petitioners. “People get offended with anything and everything these days,” he told the court. “Please protect us with no coercive steps. We deleted content without any protest. Scenes have been deleted. It’s a political satire.”
Rohatgi urged the court to at least club all the FIRs. “Petitioners reside in Bombay,” he said, according to Live Law. “Why will they go to different states?”
Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka are among the states where FIRs have been filed against the show. At least three complaints are also pending in Delhi, Chandigarh and Maharashtra, according to the Hindustan Times.
The web series purportedly provides a commentary on India’s political scene under the Narendra Modi government. The show touches upon farmer agitations to student protests to police killings – all events that have happened under the administration of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Amid the intensifying backlash, Amazon Prime Video had last week caved and agreed to make changes to the series. “We have utmost respect for the sentiments of the people of our country,” said a statement from the cast and crew. The show’s director had said that the team had no intention to hurt or offend the sentiments of any caste, race, community or religion.
The controversy around Tandav came two months after a row over Netflix series A Suitable Boy. The Madhya Pradesh Police had filed a case in November against two people, including the vice president of the streaming platform, for allegedly hurting religious sentiments after BJP members and Hindutva activists objected to a kissing scene between the show’s protagonists in a temple.