A democratic country like India is cutting a very sorry figure with open threats being given to artists and others and with attacks on people for voicing their opinions, the Bombay High Court said on Thursday.

The high court, while referring to the Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s controversy-hit film Padmavati, observed that the director has not been able to release his film and an actress is facing death threats.

The court also pulled up the CBI and the state CID, which are investigating the murder cases of rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, respectively, over the failure to arrest the main suspects in these cases so far.

The strong remarks were made by a division bench of Justices S C Dharmadhikari and Bharti Dangre while hearing the petitions filed by the family of Dabholkar and Pansare seeking court supervision on their murder probe.

“In this country, we have come to a situation where people cannot voice their opinions. Every time a person says he or she wants to voice their opinion, somebody or a fringe group says they would not allow it. This does not augur well for the state,” Justice Dharmadhikari said.

“In which other country do you see threats given to artists and performers? It is distressing to know that a person makes a feature film and several people work tirelessly towards it but are not able to release the film because of continued threats. What have we come to?” he said.

“Today, somebody says I will give a reward to anyone who kills an actress. Such open threats! People are taking pride in saying we will give a reward to those who will kill an actress. And even chief ministers are saying they will not allow the release of the movie in their states,” Justice Dharmadhikari added.

He added that if such things are happening to people with financial backings, what will happen to the poor.

The court noted that this was censorship of a different kind and it was damaging India’s image.

“What concerns us is India’s image and reputation as a democratic country. We are the largest democracy. We cannot take pride in the happenings of such incidents day in and day out. We are cutting a very sorry figure,” Justice Dharmadhikari said.

The court directed a meeting to be convened with the secretary of state home department, director general of police and joint director of CBI with Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh and Ashok Mundargi, who appears for CID in the matter.

The bench has now posted the matter for further hearing on December 21.

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