Justice G R Swaminathan of the Madurai bench of the Madras high court on Wednesday took suo motu cognisance of activist A Shankar commonly known as ‘Savukku’ Shankar for criminal contempt of court for his tweet against him and his court judgements.
The tweet in question is said to imply that the judge was influenced when he quashed a first information report (FIR) in December 2021 against controversial YouTuber M Maridhas.
Shankar in his Tweet asked whom the justice had met at 6am in Alagar temple while investigating Maridas’ case. “By this innuendo, Thiru.Shankar is suggesting that the outcome of the Maridhas case was influenced by the person I am alleged to have met. This is clearly scandalising the judiciary. Prima facie Thiru.Shankar had committed criminal contempt,” justice Swaminathan said.
The judge said that he believed in freedom of speech and expression but this time Shankar had crossed the ‘Lakshman rekha’. Swaminathan said that while he genuinely felt that Shankar can pass any comments on his judgements, his latest tweet questioned his integrity by using viruperative words.
“He is unsparing in his attack on individuals and institutions including the judiciary. While even strident criticism is permissible, defamatory vilification is not,” said justice Swaminathan. “He has been focusing his gaze on me for the last several months. He had commented on many of my judgments in the most uncharitable language. His attacks have often been personal. Since I am a strong believer in upholding freedom of speech and expression, I did not pay heed to them. However, his latest tweet appears to have crossed the lakshman rekh,” he added. The court copy included screenshots of Shankar’s tweets.
The court noted that Shankar is a You-Tuber, blogger and a commentator on current affairs who gives regular interviews to various channels on social media. Maridhas too is a well known You-Tuber. The judge said that petitions were filed to quash two criminal cases against Maridhas and the case came to his bench since he was holding the roster concerned. The case against Maridhas was for his tweet saying that the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-ruled Tamil Nadu will soon turn into another Kashmir. “After hearing the State as well as the defacto complainant, I quashed the proceedings,” the judge said.
Shankar was a former clerk in the Tamil Nadu’s Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC). He was arrested by the then DMK government in 2008 for leaking an audio tape of two top officials. After his release, he turned into a whistle-blower. He launched a website in 2009 called Savukku, meaning whip, where he exposes corruption and writes about government officials, politicians, journalists, lawyers and high court judges. His leaks include tapes related to the sensational 2G spectrum allocation scam.
Justice Swaminathan said that it is ironic that Shankar still gets a subsistence allowance from DVAC. “A person who is getting paid by the State without doing any work has the audacity to mock a Judge,” he said. “Thiru Shankar had been poking fun at my sitting hours.”
The justice defended himself saying that he has completed five years as a Madras high court judge and from 2017 until June 24, 2022 he has disposed of a total of 70,014 cases. He said that he sits in court from 9.30am onwards until well beyond court hours. “For the salary drawn by me and the prerequisites enjoyed, I believe I have worked to the fullest.”
The justice added that he was taking judicial notice of the fact that the Twitter account of Savukku Shankar was recently suspended. “But he has managed to create an alternative account. In mythology, whenever the head of an asura is slayed, another one will pop up. Thiru.Savukku Shankar appears to have taken inspiration from such mythological characters,” he said. He added that intermediaries such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube might have received several complaints against Shankar and that it is their duty to ensure that content scandalising judges and judiciary are not posted and taken down content which is already posted.
The justice also recalled that Shankar has a sexual harassment case pending against him for more than 10 years and he was informed that nothing has transpired in a case where the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is conducting investigation.