In a landmark ruling that will be seen as yet another blow to Freedom of Speech in India, the country’s Supreme Court today ruled that a bank worker who published a “vulgar” poem about Mahatma Gandhi can be prosecuted.
The ruling relates to a long-running case involving Devidas Ramchandra Tuljapurkar, an employee of the state-owned Bank of Maharashtra and who acted as editor of the bank’s in-house magazine ‘Bulletin’ in 1994.
That year, the magazine published a satirical poem by the Marathi poet Vasant Dattatraya Gurjar titled ‘Gandhi Mala Bhetla Hota’ (Gandhi Met Me). The poem had been originally published in 1984.
Years later, a local Hindu organization called Patit Pawan Sanghatana (PPS) later brought a prosecution against Mr Tuljapurkar for publishing what it called the “vulgar and obscene” poem.
The case finally arrived at the Supreme Court earlier this year after meandering its way through numerous lower courts. Last month, the judges ruled: “Mahatma Gandhi is not a symbol. He is neither a mythical nor a mythological character, and abusive, vulgar and obscene words cannot be used under the garb of poetic freedom.”
Today the judges upheld the ruling after Mr Tuljapurkar had appealed.
His lawyers had argued that people who spoke Marathi – the language in which the poem was originally penned – interpreted as a satire. In the piece, Gurjar takes aim at Gandhi’s followers, accusing them of working to serve their own interests.
Judges however, ruled that whilst such satire could be used in the case of “fictional” characters, it could be used in Gandhi’s case.