India has ‘holy cows’ grazing everywhere, says Madras HC, calls for ‘duty to laugh’

India has “holy cows” grazing from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh to Vadipatti in Tamil Nadu and one dare not poke fun at them, the Madras HC has said.
Madras High Court Chennai

India has “holy cows” grazing from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh to Vadipatti in Tamil Nadu and one dare not poke fun at them, the Madras High Court has said, adding that the Constitution would probably do with an amendment for “duty to laugh”.

All over the country, national security happens to be the “ultimate holy cow,” a bench comprising Justice G R Swaminathan said.

The court’s observation came while quashing a first information report (FIR) filed by Tamil Nadu Police against one Mathivanan over a Facebook post of photos with an accompanying caption “Trip to Sirumalai for shooting practice,” apparently written in a lighter vein.

Invoking well-known satirists, cartoonists and journalists like Jug Suraiya, Bachi Karkaria, E P Unny and G Sampath in his judgment, Justice Swaminathan said: “They would have proposed a momentous amendment to the Constitution of India to incorporate sub-clause (l) in Article 51-A.” The section deals with duties related to abiding by the Constitution and uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India among others.

“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),” the judge noted.

The judge noted that the petitioner “tried to be funny” but “Vadipatty Police did not find it to be a joke”. “Any normal and reasonable person coming across the Facebook post would have laughed it off,” he said.

The court also observed that being funny is one thing and poking fun at another is different altogether.

“Laugh at what is a serious question. This is because we have holy cows grazing all over from Varanasi to Vadipatty. 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,” the judge said.

“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 added.

Petitioner Mathivanan, an office-bearer of CPI (ML), had sought quashing the FIR registered by Vadipatti police in Madurai over his Facebook post that carried his pictures of a visit to Siruamalai with the caption in Tamil– “Thuppakki Payirchikaga Sirumalai Payanam,” translating to “Trip to Sirumalai for shooting practice.” “The petitioner herein is an important office-bearer of a not-so-important political party. CPI (ML) is now an over-ground organization which contests elections also. Paper warriors are also entitled to fantasise that they are swadeshi Che Guevaras,” the judge said. “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 said.

But the police did not “find it to be a joke” and booked him under different sections of IPC, including collecting arms with intention of waging war against the Government of India and criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication (IPC 507), the judge pointed out.

He said invoking IPC Section 507 “makes me laugh.” “Section 507 IPC can be invoked only if the person sending the communication had concealed his identity. The communication must be anonymous. In this case, the petitioner had posted the photographs along with the caption in his Facebook page. He has not concealed his identity. There is nothing anonymous about the act in question,” he said.

In fact, none of the ingredients set out in the sections under which he was booked were present in the case, the court said.

“The very registration of the impugned FIR is absurd and an abuse of legal process. It stands quashed,” the judge ruled.

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