A book can’t be banned for stray sentences: Supreme Court


The State cannot extract stray sentences and come to a finding that a book as a whole ought to be banned or forfeited, the Supreme Court has held.

A Bench of Justices D.K. Jain and H.L. Dattu — while rejecting the Maharashtra government’s stand justifying the notification for forfeiture of Shivaji-Hindu King in Islamic India written by James W. Laine — said: “The intention of the author has to be gathered from the language, contents and import of the offending material.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Jain said: “The effect of the words used in the offending material must be judged from the standards of reasonable, strong minded, firm and courageous men, and not those of weak and vacillating minds, nor of those who scent danger in every hostile point of view. The class of readers for whom the book is primarily meant would also be relevant for judging the probable consequences of the writing.”

The Bench pointed out that the intention to cause disorder or incite people to violence was the sine qua non of the offence under Section 153-A of the IPC, and the prosecution had to prove prima facie the existence of mens rea on the part of the accused.

“The intention of the publication has to be judged primarily by the language of the book, the circumstances in which it was written and published; the matter complained of must be read as a whole and one cannot rely on strongly worded and isolated passages for proving the charge, nor indeed can one take a sentence here and a sentence there and connect them by a meticulous process of inferential reasoning.”

The Maharashtra government — by a January 15, 2004 notification, under Section 95(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code — ordered that every copy of Laine’s book be seized as its circulation was likely to result in a breach of peace and tranquillity and maintenance of harmony.

The notification was subsequently withdrawn and another was issued in December 2006 for the same purpose.

“Notification invalid”

On a writ petition by Sangharaj Damodar Rupawate and others, the Bombay High Court quashed this notification. Dismissing the State’s appeal against this judgment, the Supreme Court said: “It is manifest that the notification does not identify the communities between which the book caused or is likely to cause enmity. Therefore, it cannot be found out from the notification as to which communities got outraged by the publication of the book or if it had caused hatred and animosity between particular communities or groups.”

Holding the notification invalid, the Bench declined to interfere with the High Court judgment.



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