"Let the jokers joke about people
Life's not Dead Sea sans a ripple"
-Dag Hammarskjold, former Secretary-General of the UN, translated from Swedish by Neil Elcott
The Supreme Court seems to have become too touchy and fussy about any kind of criticism in recent times. First it held the activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court and now, a stand-up comedian, Kunal Kamra, has become its bete-noire for his inane tweets and mauvaise humeur (French for 'bad humour'), critical of the modus operandi of the apex court.
First of all, Kamra is a comedian, precisely, a jester and whatever a jester writes and speaks, should be taken in jest, without giving too much importance to that. The learned judges, with enough experience, erudition and magnanimity, must know that a comedian's jibes are no more than a mosquito's bite/s. To take his brainless tweets seriously is tantamount to giving him unnecessary publicity, which he doesn't deserve.
By the way, a jester is called vidushak in Sanskrit and it actually originated from the word vidwan (a learned man). Since a vidwan is always very serious and sombre and hardly laughs, a counter-species came into being, who had the rare combination of learning and laughing going hand-in-hand! Vidushakam vidwatam, hasya-parihasam (A jester is a learned man who presents his point of view in a humorous fashion). And because of their sense of wit, wisdom and humour, kings in ancient times appointed them in courts as the kingdom's moral watchdogs and guardians. The jibes of court jesters used to drive home the point in a witty manner and kings never took umbrage at their criticisms and taunts.
Raja Birbal was a court jester who'd often pull the leg of Emperor Akbar in the court and draw his attention to wrong decisions and transgressions, through his well-timed banters. But all in a jestful manner. The emperor would also get a hint and immediately do the needful. In Southern India, Tenali Rama would often criticise the king Krishnadevaraya in the court, albeit in a veiled fashion and a bantering style. The king never felt offended by Tenali Rama's banters and witticisms. On the contrary, he admired how the latter made the king and courtiers aware of the situation and the state of affairs in the kingdom.
In the same manner, the maskhara (Persian for a jester from the root Masakh in Pahalavi: To show the path in jest) in Persian courts had the right to scribble qafreen (humorous poems with profound messages, criticising even the rulers and influential people in the kingdom) before the kings. No maskhara was ever sent to the gallows or put behind the bars by the rulers. It must be mentioned that Marathi still has the word maskhari in the sense of leg-pulling.
Agreed, Kamra has no sense of humour and he's actually a failed comedian. His comedy irritates and is often cringeworthy. His humour is woefully ill-timed and exasperatingly loud. In short, he's an apology for a comedian. All said and done, is he not a citizen of India? Isn't he a part of a democratic set-up? In a democracy, no institution or establishment is unimpeachable. Moreover, judges shouldn't be so sullen and ashen-faced as to be averse to any kind of humour and criticism. The ever irreverent and brazenly outspoken Khushwant Singh made fun of the Supreme Court and specifically of the then Chief Justice of India, Y V Chandrachud, in The Illustrated Weekly of India. But the highly evolved and mature senior Chandrachud didn't mind. Ironically, his scholarly son is one of the judges in the Supreme Court and he's all set to become the next CJI in 2022.
The point is: Judges and judiciary are not above reproach. In sooth, nothing in this world is Caesar's wife. The Punch (now defunct) magazine of England drew sketches of British judges and lampooned them. The Punch even wrote limericks on the Queen. But that humour was taken in a sportive manner by the people and establishments in the UK.
The Supreme Court of India can take a cue from the House of Lords, which, in the Spycatcher case, spared Daily Mirror that had published an upside-down picture of three law lords with the caption, ‘You Old Fools’. The House of Lords said whether one was a fool or not was a matter of perception.
Furthermore, judges need to have a much greater degree of perceptual maturity and a heightened sense of acceptance, discernment and consideration. That's why they're judges. They mustn't be selective and particularly lenient or vindictive in dealing with certain individuals, be it Arnab Goswami or Kamra.
The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilisations and cultures.