The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the arrest of eminent scholar and sociologist Ashis Nandy for making remarks alleged to be anti-Dalit at the Jaipur Literature Festival.
Though the bench stayed his arrest, it said, "He can't continue making statements like this. Whatever may be your intent you can't go on making statements."
"Tell your client he has no license to make such comments," the bench told senior advocate Aman Lekhi who was appearing for 76-year-old Nandy.
The apex court issued notices and sought response of the Centre and the Rajasthan government on a petition filed by Nandy seeking quashing of the FIR lodged against him for making the alleged statements at a literary festival.
"In the meantime, the petitioner (Nandy) will not be arrested in FIR filed in connection with the statement made by him at the JLF, on January 26," a bench headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir said.
The bench also issued notices to the governments of Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Bihar and sought their response within four weeks as FIRs, in connection with his statement, have been lodged against him in Raipur, Nasik and Patna respectively.
The bench also comprising justices A R Dave and Vikramajit Sen told Nandy that statements "are to be made in a responsible manner".
"Why do you say something which you don't want to intend," the court said when Lekhi was trying to impress upon the bench that a person cannot be punished for expressing an idea.
During the proceedings, Lekhi contended that several FIRs at different places cannot be lodged for the same offence, to which the bench said, "It affects people all over. Don't go into that type of submissions."
When Lekhi said that hysteria has been created, the bench shot back, Wwho is creating (hysteria). Who is author of the statement. Please say what your client has instructed you to say."
During a panel discussion at the Jaipur meet, Nandy had allegedly said that people belonging to OBCs and SCs/STs were more corrupt.
Later, a case was registered against him under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
The counsel said the scholar has already tendered an apology for his alleged statements.
Nandy's counsel commenced the submissions by saying, "Can law penalise an idea?" However, the bench said, "We are not at all happy".
Nandy, apprehending his arrest for the statements made by him, had moved the apex court on Thursday for quashing of the FIR against him.
Challenging the proceedings, he had submitted he was facing a serious threat in the surcharged environment against him. "Because of the surcharged environment against him and the rabid statements made by important political personalities, his physical safety is itself compromised and there is imminent threat of injury to him," his petition said.
"In fact there was no mala fide intent or purpose on the part of the petitioner to make a comment in order to insult or intimidate with intent to humiliate a member of SC or ST in any place within public view," the petition also said.
"The lodging of the said FIR against the petitioner for the alleged offence committed under SC/ST Act is against the basic principles of the fundamental rights which envisages that free speech is the foundation of a democratic society," it said.
Outside the court, Nandy told reporters, “I will have to be careful now. The case is sub-judice. I am grateful to the Supreme Court for the relief and to my legal team for making such an excellent case of defence for me."
"I am also grateful to the media for giving me much support, but for one or two rare exceptions. Also, people of India have stood by me," he said.