If you are in Sirumalai, be careful with words. Using “shooting practice” just landed a man in trouble.
The High Court was hearing a petition by a man who had been charged by the Vadipatty Police for posting some photos on Facebook from a trip to the Sirumalai Hills captioned “Trip to Sirumalai for shooting practice.” Wasting no time, the police registered a case against him under four counts of the Indian Penal Code: Sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 122 (waging war), 505(1) (b) (cause fear or alarm to the public) and 507 (Criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication). The accused is an office bearer with the CPI(M).
The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court, however, realizing the humor in the situation noted: the right to be funny can be considered as forming part of free speech under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Justice GR Swaminathan added that “attempting to be funny cannot be the same as poking fun at another human.” He also pointed out that transparent context of the caption pointing out that a trip, some photos and sharing it on social media are as open as it can get. Conspiracy and sedition come in concealed ways.
On a lighter note, he observed that were any satirist or cartoonist to have authored the judgement, they would have proposed a momentous amendment to the Constitution of India by adding one more fundamental duty at the very beginning of the hearing: “duty to laugh.”
He elaborated how different parts of the country have their respective idea of what might be holy or funny. “There is no single catalogue of holy cows. It varies from person to person and from region to region. 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 Shri. 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.”
The police sought custody of the man to the magistrate but it was refused. The judiciary lauded the magisterial decision which upheld requests for remand must be in line with Section 41 of the Criminal Procedure Code and Article 21 of the Constitution.
“Thanks to the judicious discretion of Shri MC Arun, the petitioner escaped incarceration by a whisker,” the Court added.
The High Court then went on to explain the offence to wage a war, stating that it requires several steps and stages including mobilisation of men and accumulation of arms and ammunition. The court further explained the context of the picture. The petitioner had no weapon in the picture and no proscribed material was recovered from him. The petitioner had just given a title to the pictures taken on a trip.
“The communication must be anonymous. In this case, the petitioner had posted the photographs along with the caption on his Facebook page. He has not concealed his identity. There is nothing anonymous about the act in question,” the Court stated.