The Attorney General of India has declined permission to an advocate to file a contempt plea against actor Swara Bhasker for comments on the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Babri Masjid and Ayodhya land dispute case; the comments were described by the petitioner as “derogatory”, “scandalous” and an “attack on the institution”.
The Attorney General’s nod is a must before filing a contempt petition in the top court.
Attorney General KK Venugopal said the comment was the “perception of the speaker” and did not “offer any comment on the Supreme Court itself or say anything that would scandalise or tend to scandalise… the authority of the Supreme Court”.
“In my opinion, this statement does not constitute criminal contempt,” the Attorney General said.
The statement, reportedly made at an event in Mumbai, was written out in the Attorney General’s letter: “We are living in a country where the Supreme Court states that the demolition of the Babri Masjid was unlawful and, in the same judgment, rewards the same people who brought down the mosque”.
In November last year the Supreme Court had ruled that the formerly disputed land in Ayodhya belonged to the deity Ram Lalla, or the infant Lord Ram.
The court, however, also said that the razing of the 16th century Babri Masjid in December 1992 was unlawful and a “calculated act of destroying a place of public worship”.
In his statement today the Attorney General said the “statement in the first part appears to be a factual one, and is perception of the speaker”.
The second comment made by Ms Bhasker, also written out in the Attorney General’s letter today, said that “we are ruled by a government that doesn’t believe in our Constitution… we are ruled by police forces that do not believe in the Constitution… it seems we are now in a situation where our courts are not sure whether they believe in the Constitution…”
She goes on to say that the way forward had been “shown to us” by numerous civil society protests led by students and women, in particular.
The comment has been seen by many as a reference to protests such as the one led by women in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
The protest made international headlines with protesters agitating against the “anti-Muslim” CAA, NRC (National Register of Citizens) and NPR (National Population Register).
Passed last year, the government said the CAA would help persecuted minorities from three Muslim-majority nations – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
Ms Bhasker was also outspoken in her support of the student community in the national capital for their role in the protests. The actor, who is a graduate of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, praised students for “waking up the entire country”.
The Attorney General’s refusal to proceed with a criminal contempt case against Ms Bhasker comes days after lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan was held guilty of the same charge. Mr Bhushan, the court ruled, had crossed a line in making comments about the judiciary.
Mr Bhushan, in his defence, said he considered the tweets “as an attempt for working for the betterment of the institution”, and that open criticism was necessary to safeguard democracy in India. The Attorney General had clarified in court that his views are not of the government but were personal ones.
An unimpressed Supreme Court gave Mr Bhushan up to three days “to reconsider” his statement and sought an unconditional apology by August 24.