Perhaps it is time India amended its Constitution mandating that every citizen also has a ‘Duty to Laugh’, suggested Justice G.R. Swaminathan of the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court, while quashing a case against a man whose attempt at word play landed him in trouble with the State police.
Listing out the duties of every citizen under Article 51-A of the Constitution, the judge said, “To this, the hypothetical author would have added one more fundamental duty — the 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.”
What prompted the judge to stress on learning to laugh, was a petition by Mathivanan of Madurai, an office bearer of the CPI (ML). On September 16, Mr Mathivanan went on a sightseeing trip to Sirumalai hills with his daughter and son-in-law. Later, he uploaded the photographs of the visit on Facebook, captioning them ‘Trip to Sirumalai for shooting practice’.
The Vadipatti police in Madurai saw the post as a threat to “wage war” and booked him under various Sections of the Indian Penal Code.
Quashing the FIR, Justice G.R. Swaminathan observed: “‘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. 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 E.V. 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’,” he said.
The Vadipatti Police thought the petitioner was making preparations to wage war against the State. They registered a case against the petitioner, arrested him and produced him before the jurisdictional magistrate for remanding him in custody. Mercifully, M.C. Arun, the Judicial Magistrate, Vadipatti, had the good sense to refuse remand, the judge said.
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. 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 petitioner is aged 62 years. His daughter is standing next to him. His son-in-law is also seen in the photograph. Four other photographs capturing the scenic beauty of the place have also been posted. No weapon or proscribed material was recovered from the petitioner. 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. The very registration of the FIR is absurd and an abuse of the legal process, the judge said and quashed it.