One fine day in September, 62-year-old Mathivanan, a member of the CPI (ML) in Madurai, headed to the picturesque Sirumalai hills with his daughter and son-in-law for sightseeing. Posting a photograph of the trip on Facebook, he gave the caption, ‘Trip to Sirumalai for shooting practice’.
That was enough to for the Vadipatti police to presume that Mathivanan was preparing to “wage a war” against the State and booked him for various offences, including on the charge of sedition under Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code. He was arrested and produced before the magistrate, who mercifully, turned down the prosecution’s plea to remand him in custody.
Amused by this overzealous police action, Justice G R Swaminathan of the Madras High Court (Madurai Bench), has not only quashed the FIR registered against Mathivanan but also driven home a point that we as Indians need to learn to laugh a bit.
“Jug Suraiya, Bachi Karkaria, E.P.Unny and G.Sampath ... if any one of them, or for that matter any satirist or cartoonist had authored this judgement, they would have proposed a momentous amendment to the Constitution of India to incorporate sub-clause (l) in Article 51-A [dealing with duties of citizens]….To this, the hypothetical author would have added one more fundamental duty - duty to laugh. The correlative right to be funny can be mined in Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India (the use of crypto vocabulary to be forgiven). Being funny is one thing and poking fun at another is different altogether,” the judge wrote.
Justice Swaminathan said there were lots of ‘holy cows’ in India. “‘Laugh at what?’ is a serious question. This is because we have holy cows grazing all over from Varanasi to Vadipatti. One dare not poke fun at them. There is however no single catalogue of holy cows. It varies from person to person and from region to region,” he said.
Not sparing any region, he added: “A real cow, even if terribly underfed and emaciated, shall be holy in Yogi’s terrain. In West Bengal, Tagore is such an iconic figure that Khushwant Singh learnt the lesson at some cost. Coming to my own Tamil Desh, the all-time iconoclast ‘Periyar’ EV Ramasamy is a super-holy cow. In today’s Kerala, Marx and Lenin are beyond the bounds of criticism or satire. Chhatrapati Shivaji and Veer Savarkar enjoy a similar immunity in Maharashtra. But all over India, there is one ultimate holy cow and that is ‘national security’.”
Revolutionaries, whether real or phoney, are not usually credited with any sense of humour (or at least this is the stereotype). “For a change, the petitioner tried to be funny. Perhaps it was his maiden attempt at humour,” the judge wrote, pointing out, “To wage war would require several steps and crossing of stages. There has to be mobilisation of men as well as accumulation of arms and ammunition. That would require a concerted effort. Each individual who is a party to the conspiracy to wage war may be allotted a particular task.”
However, “except giving the title to the photographs amateurishly taken on the occasion of his trip to Sirumalai hills, the petitioner has done nothing else,” the judge said.
The court pointed out that apart from that photograph, the petitioner had posted four more photos capturing the scenic beauty of the place. No weapon or proscribed material was recovered from him. “The petitioner neither intended to wage war, nor did he commit any act towards preparation. Any normal and reasonable person coming across the Facebook post would have laughed it off,” the judge pointed out.
Calling the very registration of the FIR “absurd” and “an abuse of the legal process”, the judge quashed the FIR.
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