A democratic country like India is cutting a very sorry figure with open threats being given to artists and others and with attacks on people for voicing their opinions, the Bombay High Court said on Thursday.
The High Court, while referring to Sanjay Leela Bhansali's controversy-hit film Padmavati, observed that the director had not been able to release his film and an actress was facing death threats.
The High Court also pulled up the CBI and the state CID, which were investigating the murder cases of rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, respectively, over the failure to arrest the main suspects in these cases so far.
The strong remarks were made by a division bench of Justices S.C. Dharmadhikari and Bharti Dangre while hearing the petitions filed by family members of Dabholkar and Pansare seeking court supervision of the investigations of their murders.
"In this country, we have come to a situation where people cannot voice their opinions. Every time a person says he or she wants to voice their opinion, somebody or a fringe group says they would not allow it. This does not augur well for the state," Justice Dharmadhikari said.
"In which other country do you see threats given to artists and performers? It is distressing to know that a person makes a feature film and several people work tirelessly towards it, but is not able to release the film because of continued threats. What have we come to?" he asked.
"Today, somebody says I will give a reward to anyone who kills an actress. Such open threats! People are taking pride in saying we will give reward to those who will kill an actress. And even chief ministers are saying they will not allow the release of the movie in their states," Justice Dharmadhikari said, referring to some states banning the release of Padmavati.
He added that if such things are happening to people with financial backing, what would happen to poor people.
The court noted that this was censorship of a different kind and it was damaging India's image.
"What concerns us is India's image and reputation as a democratic country. We are the largest democracy. We cannot take pride in the happenings of such incidents day in and day out. We are cutting a very sorry figure," Justice Dharmadhikari said.
Referring to a recent case where a foreign couple was attacked in Uttar Pradesh, he said, "Somebody visits this country as tourists and they are attacked."
The bench noted that states like Maharashtra and Karnataka were known for their 'progressive and modern thinking.'
"Maharashtra and Karnataka are known for social reformers and thinkers and with such incidents, these states are cutting a sorry figure politically too," the High Court said.
It added that in other countries when any major incident occurs, the suspect is apprehended, dead or alive, within hours.
"However, our country's agencies have not learnt anything from past incidents like the attack on Parliament and the Prime Minister," Justice Dharmadhikari said.
The court said Dabholkar was killed in 2013 and Pansare in 2015, but till date, the investigating agencies (CBI and state CID) have not been able to arrest the main suspects.
"We cannot allow such serious matters to linger for years. We cannot allow constitutional rights to be taken away. Enough damage has been caused already. Has any senior official from the two agencies bothered to find out why the probe is not getting any headway?" the court asked.
It said even after these two attacks, there are persons, who were openly and boldly voicing their opinions, being threatened.
"At the core of these two crimes is the bold attempts being made by fringe groups to attack those who voice their rational views, thoughts, feelings and expressions," the court said.
"Hence, we feel that it is time to call upon the CBI and the CID to involve their superiors. If the senior officials do not wish to be summoned to court, then they should meet with the counsels appearing in court and take stock of the situation," Justice Dharmadhikari said.
The High Court directed a meeting to be convened with the secretary of state home department, director general of police (DGP) and joint director of CBI with Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh and Ashok Mundargi, who appeared for the CID in the matter.
The bench posted the matter for further hearing on December 21.
While the CBI is probing the Dabholkar case, the Pansare murder case was being investigated by a special investigation team of the CID.
Dabholkar was murdered in Pune on August 20, 2013 and Pansare was shot on February 16, 2015 in Kolhapur. He died four days later in a hospital.