While maintaining the FIR against the petitioners, the single-judge bench of Justice S.K. Sharma clarified that her direction to register the FIR did not include a direction to arrest any of the petitioners.
THE Delhi High Court has come down heavily on the web series ‘College Romance‘ for the use of the language in the series, which the court has described as “foul, indecent and profane” to the extent that it would “affect and deprave and corrupt impressionable minds”.
It asked the Union government to take steps for enforcing the stricter application of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, and make any laws or rules as deemed appropriate in its wisdom to limit obscene and sexually explicit content in popular entertainment.
“The words and language used in this web series will certainly be found by many as naturally disgusting, dirty and sexual and these swear words and profanities certainly are not part of standard Hindi or any other Indian language. In Indian society, even today, swear words are not spoken in the presence of the elderly, at religious places, or in front of women or children“, a single-judge bench of Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma held.
Justice Sharma was ruling on a petition filed by, among others, TVF Media Labs Pvt. Ltd., which is the creator, distributor and production company of the web series, along with other individuals associated with the web series, challenging the order of an Additional Sessions Judge (ASJ) directing the registration of a first information report (FIR) under Section 67A (punishment for publishing or transmitting of material containing sexually explicit act, etc., in electronic form) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act) against the petitioners.
Justice Sharma upheld the order of the ASJ, but also added Section 67 (punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form) of the IT Act to the FIR.
Initially, the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (North), Rohini District Court, New Delhi had directed the registration of an FIR under sections 67 and 67A of the IT Act, along with Section 292 (sale, etc., of obscene books, etc.) and 294 (obscene acts and songs) of the Indian Penal Code. His order was partially reversed by the ASJ by holding that offences under sections 292 and 294 of the Code, and section 67 of the IT Act were not made out.
While maintaining the FIR against the petitioners, Justice Sharma clarified that her direction to register the FIR did not include a direction to arrest any of the petitioners.
Justice Sharma watched a few episodes of the web series, including the fifth episode of the first season, which was specifically named in the complaint against the series, in order to use the test of a common prudent man in practicality, acting herself as a common prudent person, “so as to check as to whether such language could be heard by a common prudent man without being embarrassed or finding it against decency or against the concept of decency”.
Justice Sharma, after watching the episodes, opined that the web series was full of excessive use of “swear words”, “profane language” and “vulgar expletives”.
“In the episode in question, there is clear description and reference to a sexually explicit act. The Court had to watch the episodes with the aid of earphones, in the chamber, as the profanity of language used was of the extent that it could not have been heard without shocking or alarming the people around and keeping in mind the decorum of language which is maintained by a common prudent man whether in professional or public domain or even with family members at home,” she noted.
Justice Sharma added that the language used in the web series was not the language that nation’s youth or otherwise citizens of this country use, and this language cannot be called the frequently spoken language used in our country.
Justice Sharma went on to observe that in the name of individual freedom, such language could not be permitted to be served to the general public and be represented to the world at large as if this was the language that this country and the youth in its educational institutions speak.
Holding so would amount to a dangerous trend and will be against public interest, she observed.
“The individualistic choices, essentially in case they are of using such language, which remain in individualistic domain will not attract criminality and will not infringe the said person’s individual freedom. However, in the name of individual freedom, neither such language can be permitted to be served to all without classification and be represented to the world at large as the spoken language of this country, nor it can be permitted that the youth of this country be told that this language is the latest accepted normal behavior,” Justice Sharma added.
She opined that the concept of morality differs in every country and that Indian courts need not look to the west or any other part of the world except toward itself.
“The approach of this Court for applying the test of a common man and how the content will affect him and what his reaction will be, has to be in the Indian context as the Indian morality and values can only be judged in the Indian context, keeping in mind the contemporary standards of civility and morality. The concept of morality differs in every country and the Courts need not look to the west or any other part of the world except towards itself in this regard“, she said.
Commenting on Episode 5 of Season 1, Justice Sharma observed that the “level of obscenity of the language and sentences used was such that this Court cannot reproduce it in the judgment itself for the purpose of adjudication.”
“The language used in the web series at the above mentioned time referred to a sexually explicit act in spoken language. It is not just an expletive, but is profane and vulgar language being used referring to a sexually explicit act which certainly cannot be termed common or commonly accepted language“, Justice Sharma held after watching parts of the series.
Click here to read the full judgment of the Delhi High Court in TVF Media Labs Pvt. Ltd. & Ors. versus State (Govt. of NCT of Delhi) & Anr. (Neutral citation no. 2023/DHC/001676).