India/ 5.3 Sector specific legislation  

5.3.2 Performing arts and music

There is no specific legislation governing performing arts and music except in the Indian Copyright Act, 1957. Of specific relevance here, however, is the Dramatic Performance Act. The original act, passed under colonial regulation in 1876, and widely believed to be draconian and directed towards the specific banning of Girishchandra Ghose’s play ‘Neeldarpan’ (1872), was not repealed after Independence, and has indeed been replicated by several state governments: e.g. the Karnataka Dramatic Performances Act, 1964 or the Orissa Dramatic Performances Act, 1962. All state Governments have the power to regulate ‘Theatres and dramatic performances’ under Article 246 of the Constitution of India.

The Karnataka Dramatic Performances Act, 1964, for example, gives the state the power to prohibit ‘objectionable performances’ which could ‘incite any person to resort to violence or sabotage for the purpose of overthrowing or undermining the Government established by law in India or in any State thereof or its authority in any area; or... incite any person to commit murder, sabotage or any offence involving violence; or seduce any member of any of the armed forces of the Union or of the police forces from his allegiance or his duty, or prejudice the recruitment or discipline of any such force; or incite any section of the citizens of India to acts of violence against any other section of the citizens of India; or which is deliberately intended to outrage the religious feelings of any class of the citizens of India by insulting or blaspheming or profaning the religion or the religious beliefs of that class; or is grossly indecent, or is scurrilous or obscene or intended for blackmail.’

The Act does explain that a ‘performance shall not be deemed to be objectionable merely because... words are uttered, or signs or visible representations are made, expressing disapprobation or criticism of any law or of any policy or administrative action of the Government’, although it does expect that such criticism is made ‘with a view to obtain its alteration or redress by lawful means’. Additionally, the ‘explanation’ also requires that the ‘play, pantomime or other drama shall be considered as a whole’. 

Chapter published: 22-04-2014