Cannot ban Sardarji jokes; Sikh community highly respected: SC

The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed its inability to issue directions to regulate jokes about the Sikh community, observing courts cannot "lay down moral guidelines" for citizens and doubting their enforceability if it were to do so.

A bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra and R Banumathi said courts cannot pass any regulations asking people to behave in a "particular manner in public" and even if they do, "who will enforce them on the streets''?

"We are clear on the issue that the courts cannot lay down moral guidelines for citizens. We cannot issue guidelines to regulate individuals," the bench said.

The bench, which indicated its opinion on the issue, said it would pass a formal order on a batch of petitions alleging commercial dissemination of "insulting" jokes about Sikhs through public modes of communication, like the internet and text messages, on 27 March.

It did not agree with the submission that like the Vishakha judgement, in which the top court had given a slew of directions on women's safety at work places, directions can be passed in the instant matter also till the government comes out with legislation.

The bench said, "Certain things are collective and certain things are individual ... some people laugh when they hear jokes, some are reserved. How can we issue guidelines as to how people should conduct themselves?"

The bench said the entire country respects the natives of the border areas including Punjab for their bravery and history has been witness to it.

"The Sikhs are a highly respected community but you are bringing it down by fighting litigation to ban jokes," it said, adding that at best the issue fell within the domain of parliament. It said an aggrieved individual has legal remedy and there was no scope for issuing guidelines for the common public to follow.

The bench, earlier headed by the then Chief Justice of India T S Thakur, had said it was willing to issue directions to curb dissemination of "insulting" jokes about Sikhs. It had said that the key concern was the enforcement of such directives.

The bench had sought suggestions on enforceability of possible directions on the issue from lawyers concerned and Sikh bodies like Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), Amritsar, Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC), Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee, Haryana, and Gurudwara Management Committee, Patna Sahib.

"The comments or jokes may be humiliating and denigrating to the community, the issue is how to enforce any such direction," it had said.

It said an order can be passed to stop commercial exploitation of such jokes and materials, but it would be difficult to curb such things in the private arena.

The first public interest litigation on the issue was filed by a woman lawyer, Harvinder Chowdhary, who had then got emotional and spoken about the menace of jokes about the community by referring to the suicide of a boy who was upset by someone lampooning the community.

Chowdhary had said she herself had been a victim of being a Sikh, was treated in a discriminatory manner and suffered humiliation.

She contended that such jokes were a violation of Sikhs' right to equality and an attack on the dignity of the community.