Begum Jaan
Begum Jaan|New Indian Express
Litigation News

Gauhati HC quashes order banning telecast of TV series Begum Jaan over "Love Jihad" allegations

The Court has remanded the matter for fresh decision by the District Monitoring Committee. The telecast has been permitted only once objectionable content (if any) is removed.

Lydia Suzanne Thomas

Granting relief to the makers of television serial Begum Jaan, the Gauhati High Court has quashed a Central Government Monitoring Committee order that suspended its telecast for two months (M/s AM Television Private Ltd. and Anr. v. State of Assam and Ors).

"Since the impugned order has been set aside by this Court, the writ petitioners would be at liberty to telecast the Serial, “Begum Jaan”, if so advised."
Gauhati High Court

Though the Court allowed the telecast of the series, the producers were directed to remove communally charged material (if any) from the serial before it was aired.

Emphasising that any violation of its direction would be viewed seriously by the Court, Justice Suman Shyam enjoined:

"... it is hereby provided that telecast of the serial “Begum Jaan” be made only after the ... Managing Director of the satellite TV channel, reaches his personal satisfaction to the effect that any content of the Serial which is deemed to be universally objectionable on the ground of violation of communal harmony or which may contain anything that may harm the religious sentiment of any community, is deleted, before making the telecast. Subject to observation of the above condition, it would be open for the petitioners to telecast the TV serial “Begum Jaan” in accordance with law."

The television series Begum Jaan, aired on the satellite television channel Rengoni, has been accused of promoting 'Love Jihad' by some sections in its portrayal of characters.

Upon complaints that the show was communally charged, the Police Commissioner issued an order suspending the show's telecast. The order was based on the recommendations of the District Monitoring Committee constituted under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

The producers of the television show, Rengoni TV, represented by Advocate S Sharma, argued that the quorum specification of the Committee was unmet since a representative from 'electronic media' was not included.

It was argued that the Guidelines issued by the Information Ministry, Government of India mandated representation from electronic media on the Committee.

Additionally, the producers and telecasters of the show were not afforded opportunity for hearing, Advocate Sharma submitted.

Pertinently, the Advocate-General M Bhattacharjee conceded to the petitioners' arguments regarding the quorum requirements and admitted that it was not met.

Justice Shyam found that the Committee's recommendations did not reveal which of the scenes in the series were deemed harmful to communal harmony. Nor did the Committee's deliberations detail its reasons for issuing an order to suspend the telecast, the Court pointed out.

Holding that the Committee's recommendations were violative of natural justice because the petitioners were not heard, Justice Shyam stated:

"This Court is, therefore, of the view that the impugned order ... is unsustainable in the eye of law not only on the ground of violating the mandate ... issued by the Government of India, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting but also for violating the principles of natural justice and for non-application of mind. The respondent No.4 was clearly not justified in suspending the telecast of the serial by an exparte blanket order without giving an opportunity of hearing to the petitioners to explain their stand or recording any cogent reason for doing so."

The Hindu Jagaran Mancha and Gunajit Adhikari, who had originally sought the prohibition of the show's telecast, filed a caveat in Court so as to air their grievances. Their counsel, Advocate HK Das, asserted that the Police could independently order the suspension of a show's telecast, irrespective of whether the Committee was lawfully constituted.

The Single Bench, however, rejected Advocate Das' arguments highlighting that the complaints had originally been made to the Monitoring Committee. Therefore, the Committee was required to apply its mind on the merit of the complaints before making its recommendations, the Judge reasoned.

Remanding the matter back to the Managing Committee for consideration, the Court disposed of the writ petition. The Judge directed that both the complainants and the makers of the serial be allowed to make their submissions before a decision was taken.

"It is, however, made clear that before taking any further action in the matter, the respondents would furnish copies of the complaints to the writ petitioners and give them reasonable opportunity of being heard so as to explain their stand. Similarly, opportunity of personal hearing be also granted to the complainants", the Court added.

Read the Order here:

Ms AM Television Private Ltd. and Anr v. State of Assam and Ors. - Order dated September 3, 2020.pdf
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