The Gauhati High Court has removed a telecast ban of Assamese TV serial Begum Jaan, nearly two weeks after the city police banned it over allegations by Hindu groups that it encouraged "love jihad". A 10-member content monitoring committee headed by the city police chief had ruled the serial hurts religious sentiments.
After the serial was banned for two months, the lead actor was trolled on social media with threats of acid attack and rape, after which the Guwahati Police came under criticism for not acting against the threats.
The serial telecast in Rengoni TV tells a fictional story of a Hindu girl who fights against societal stereotypes with the help of a Muslim man.
A single-bench of Justice Suman Shyam on Thursday removed the telecast ban after noting that the committee banned the serial without hearing the affected parties and without following the procedure under the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act, 1994.
The court order came on a petition by AM Private Television Ltd, owner of Rengoni TV.
The court said the managing director of the channel should ensure that any content that may hurt religious sentiment should be "deleted" before telecast this time.
The monitoring committee did not have a "representative from the media", the TV channel's lawyer S Sarma said.
"Clearly not justified in suspending the telecast of the serial by an ex parte blanket order without giving an opportunity of hearing to the petitioners to explain their stand or recording any cogent reason for doing so," the Gauhati High Court said.
Though the state government agreed that the monitoring committee was not formed under its latest guidelines - meaning the committee could be illegal - it said the committee did not have any bearing on the order to ban the channel as the Police Commissioner was "competent" to pass the order.
The court, however, declined to accept this line of reasoning. "The complaints were evidently addressed to the Chairman of the Monitoring Committee and therefore, a duly constituted monitoring committee was required to apply its mind on the merit of the complaints before making any recommendation in the matter which has apparently not been done in this case," Justice Shyam said.
Long before the two-month ban was imposed on the channel, the show faced online trolling and protests - mostly from Hindu organisations - for allegedly promoting "love jihad" and for belittling "Hindu and Assamese culture".
"Love jihad" is a term used by right-wing groups to target relationships between Muslim men and Hindu women, which, they say, is an elaborate ruse to forcibly convert the women.
The term "love jihad" is not defined under existing laws and no case has been reported by any central agency, the government said for the first time in parliament on February 4 this year. "The term love jihad is not defined under the extant laws. No such case of love jihad has been reported by any of the central agencies," Junior Home Minister G Kishan Reddy had said in a reply to a written question.