Delhi HC Orders FIR Against 'College Romance' Web Series, Says Language 'Obscene and Vulgar'

Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma said that "in the name of individual freedom, such language cannot be permitted to be served to the general public".

New Delhi: Describing the language used in the web series ‘College Romance’, streaming on the over-the-top (OTT) platform TVF, as “obscene, profane and vulgar”, the Delhi high court on Monday, March 6, directed authorities concerned to file a first information report (FIR) against its makers.

A single-judge bench of Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma upheld the earlier order in the case against the makers of the web series. An additional chief metropolitan magistrate (ACMM) had directed the Delhi police to register an FIR against director Simarpreet Singh and actor Apoorva Arora.

The judge said that after watching a few episodes of the show, she found that the actors in the web series are not using “civil language”, according to the Indian Express. The content of the series would “lead a common man to the conclusion that the language used in the web series is foul and profane which can affect and corrupt impressionable minds”.

“Therefore, on the basis of this finding it can be held that the content of the web series will certainly attract the criminality as envisaged under Section 67 (publishing or transmitting, in the electronic form, any material which is lascivious) of the Information Technology Act,” Justice Sharma said. She also added the direction to register an FIR does not include permission to arrest the accused or the petitioner.

In September 2019, the ACMM instructed the Delhi police to register an FIR against the makers of the web series under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and Sections 67 and 67A (punishment for publishing or transmitting of material containing sexually explicit act) of the IT Act. However, in November 2020, an additional sessions judge modified the ACMM’s order, noting that the FIR should be filed only under Section 67A of the IT Act. The latest ruling on Monday, March 6, upheld the ACMM’s September 2019 order.

The Delhi high court also drew the attention of the Union ministry of electronics and information technology to take stricter action against the makers of the web series, platform (TVF) and YouTube under Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, commonly known as IT Rules.

Justice Sharma observed that “in the name of individual freedom such language cannot be permitted to be served to the general public and be represented to the world at large as if this is the language that this country and youth in educational institutions speaks”, according to Bar and Bench.

“The language which is being today called normal college culture and lifestyle is bound to percolate to school going children since it is unclassified and tomorrow may be called normal school culture, since the new generation will learn from the older generation. It will be a sad day for society in case the same vulgar and obscene language is spoken in schools, streets and houses in the name of new culture of the students,” Justice Sharma said.

She said that she had to watch episodes of the show by using earphones as the “profanity of language used was such that it could not have been heard without shocking or alarming the people around”.

“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. Most certainly, this Court notes that this is 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 said.

delhi hc

Delhi high court. Photo: PTI

The complainant in the case alleged that vulgar and obscene language was used in Episode 5 of Season 1 of the show, noting that the portrayal of women and girls in the show was “indecent”.

According to Indian Express, the court also observed that the male protagonist “uses words describing male and female genitalia and sexual act, thus by words, painting pictures of a sexually explicit act which brings it under the ambit of arousing prurient feelings by so doing”. The court said the male protagonist named Bagga in the show and the “bug of obscene…and bad language of Bagga cannot be allowed to pollute the language of people”.

The judge rejected the petitioners’ arguments that language or behaviour on the show does not evoke lustful thoughts. The use of “vulgar language” and “bad words in the public domain and in social media platforms” open to children of tender age needs to be taken “seriously”, the court said.

Media platforms “cannot be allowed to legitimise offensive language, including swearing and profane words, in the garb of change of language with the passage of time”, the court said. Admitting that courts cannot moral police, the judge however added that the language used in the series “does not pass the test of public decency”. A majority of Indians would like to use civil language and hence “individualism of choice of using such profane language full of expletives has to give way to the majoritism of people who want to speak and hear the civil language”, the order says.

SC judge had said obscenity ‘brought on by viewer’

The HC order comes close on the heels of an observation by Supreme Court judge S.K. Kaul that any “perceived obscenity” in a book or artwork is brought upon by the reader or viewer himself. Speaking at a literary event, the judge – who delivered landmark judgments upholding the rights of artist M.F. Husain and writer Perumal Murugan – noted that it was “necessary to facilitate principled conversations on even the most contentious issues” and ensure that freedom of speech and expression is maintained.

In 2016, refusing to ban Perumal Murugan’s book Madhorubagan, Justices Kaul and Pushpa Sathyanarayana wrote:

“The choice to read is always with the reader. If you do not like a book, throw it away. There is no compulsion to read a book. Literary tastes may vary – what is right and acceptable to one may not be so to others. Yet, the right to write is unhindered.”