In a recent development, the Delhi High Court has declined to entertain a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the film “Aankh Micholi,” dismissing claims that the movie, released in November last year, is derogatory towards people with disabilities.

A division bench, comprising Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Manmeet Pritam Singh Arora, emphasized the judiciary’s reluctance to interfere post the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) approval. The court highlighted the broad latitude given to cinematic works and expressed a preference for avoiding excessive censorship.

“We do not want too much censorship. We are one of the few countries where there is prior censorship. We have gone the extra mile. Normally, in the rest of the world, it is only grading which takes place and there is no prior censorship. We are a country where scenes are deleted before a film’s release,” remarked the bench.

The court underscored the importance of cherishing creative freedom and argued against unnecessary curtailment. This decision reflects a stance in support of the filmmaking industry’s autonomy and the artistic choices made during the creative process.

The PIL was initiated by Nipun Malhotra, a disability rights activist facing a locomotor disability, who contended that the film portrayed individuals with disabilities in a disparaging manner, violating their rights. The petitioner, represented by Advocate Jai Anant Dehadrai, asserted that “Aankh Micholi” contained scenes and characterizations perpetuating harmful stereotypes regarding people with disabilities, particularly those with speech, vision, and hearing impairments.

The plea sought specific actions, including a directive to the film’s producer to create a short awareness movie highlighting the hardships faced by people with disabilities and promoting awareness on the subject. Additionally, the petitioner called for the formulation of an equal opportunity policy in alignment with the Rights of Persons With Disability (RPWD) Act, urging the employment of individuals with disabilities.

Despite the petitioner’s concerns about the alleged offensive content and reinforcement of negative stereotypes in the film, the court’s decision reflects a broader commitment to safeguarding creative expression. This decision aligns with the global trend of relying on film grading rather than prior censorship, emphasizing the delicate balance between artistic freedom and societal sensitivities.

It remains to be seen how this ruling will impact future debates surrounding the portrayal of sensitive issues in cinema and the scope of intervention by regulatory bodies. The court’s emphasis on upholding creative freedom signals a nuanced approach to navigating the complex intersection between artistic expression and the potential impact on marginalized communities.
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act, enacted in 2016, is a pivotal legislation in India aimed at safeguarding the rights and dignity of individuals with disabilities. The primary objective of the RPWD Act is to create an inclusive and barrier-free society, promoting equal opportunities and full participation for people with various disabilities.

This comprehensive legislation recognizes a spectrum of disabilities, including physical, intellectual, mental, and multiple disabilities. The RPWD Act emphasizes the right to equality, nondiscrimination, and equal protection before the law for persons with disabilities. It seeks to eliminate barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society.

Importantly, the act articulates various rights for individuals with disabilities. It mandates accessibility in public places, transport, and information and communication technologies to ensure inclusivity. The right to education is a significant focus, guaranteeing inclusive education for children with disabilities. Employment rights are reinforced, promoting equal opportunities in the workforce.

The RPWD Act also enshrines the right to health, ensuring access to healthcare services, rehabilitation, and assistive devices. It emphasizes the right to live independently and be included in the community, discouraging institutionalization. The legislation recognizes the right to legal capacity, allowing persons with disabilities to make decisions on an equal basis with others.

As discussions surrounding the representation of diverse groups in media continue, this case serves as a reminder of the challenges in finding a consensus between artistic expression and societal norms. Filmmakers, advocates, and legal experts will closely watch how this decision shapes future engagements between the film industry and concerns related to portrayal, stereotypes, and the rights of individuals with disabilities.

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