Legal Article

Artistic Freedom: Protection in the Realm of Indian Constitution

Shivendra Pratap Singh

Advocate

High Court Lucknow

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Published on: 3 Aug, 2023

Artistic Freedom: Artistic expression, a reflection of the creator’s soul and society’s ethos, is a pivotal facet of any nation’s cultural heritage. In India, the land of diverse cultures, traditions, and art forms, the protection of artistic freedom holds paramount importance. The Indian Constitution, through its provisions and the judiciary’s interpretations, has consistently emphasized the significance of this freedom.

Artistic Freedom under the Indian Constitution:

Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to freedom of speech and expression. Over the years, the judiciary has interpreted this provision to encompass the freedom of artistic expression, including art, literature, film, music, and other creative pursuits.

Landmark Judgments Upholding Artistic Freedom:

  1. S. Rangarajan vs. P. Jagjivan Ram (1989):
    • Issue: Withdrawal of a film’s certification due to concerns over public disorder.
    • Verdict: The Supreme Court asserted that freedom of expression can’t be suppressed on account of threats of demonstrations and protests. The anticipated danger should not be remote or far-fetched.
  2. M.F. Husain vs. Raj Kumar Pandey (2008):
    • Issue: Controversy over M.F. Husain’s paintings portraying Hindu deities.
    • Verdict: The Delhi High Court, in defense of Husain’s artistic freedom, held that art needs to be tolerant and broad-minded, accepting different interpretations and perceptions.
  3. Bobby Art International vs. Om Pal Singh Hoon (1996):
    • Issue: Release of the film ‘Bandit Queen’ and its depiction of explicit scenes.
    • Verdict: The Supreme Court emphasized that films should be judged in their entirety. Scenes that may appear obscene in isolation might be relevant when viewed in context.

Balancing Artistic Freedom with Other Concerns:

While artistic freedom is essential, it isn’t absolute. The Constitution lays down certain reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2), which include concerns like public order, decency, morality, and defamation. The challenge lies in striking a balance between individual artistic freedom and broader societal concerns, ensuring one doesn’t unduly impinge upon the other.

Challenges and Concerns:

  • Censorship: Film and literature censorship has often been a point of contention, with artists arguing that the regulatory mechanisms are overly restrictive.
  • Societal Pressures: Often, threats and protests from particular sections of society can lead to self-censorship among artists.
  • Vague Definitions: Terms like “public morality” and “decency” are open to interpretation, leading to potential misuse against artistic works.

Conclusion:

Art, in all its myriad forms, is a reflection of society’s conscience. While regulations are essential to ensure harmony, over-regulation can stifle creativity. India, with its vast cultural tapestry, stands to gain immensely by fostering an environment where artists can freely express their visions. Through its constitutional provisions and judicious interpretations, India seeks to achieve this delicate balance, protecting its rich artistic heritage for generations to come.