Stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra defended in the Supreme Court on Friday his alleged scandalous tweets against the judiciary, saying if the court believes he has crossed the line and wants to shut down his internet indefinitely, “then he too will write Happy Independence Day post cards every August 15, just like my Kashmiri friends”. He said irreverence and hyperbole are essential tools for the comedic enterprise and a comic raises questions on issues of public interest in his own unique way.
“We would be reduced to a country of incarcerated artists and flourishing lapdogs if powerful people and institutions continue to show an inability to tolerate rebuke or criticism,” he said. Kamra, who filed his reply affidavit in a plea seeking contempt action against him for the alleged scandalous tweets said, “I may disagree with many decisions by many courts in many matters, but I promise this bench that I will respect any decision that comes my way with a broad smile. I will not vilify this bench or the Supreme Court in this matter specifically because that would actually be contempt of court.”
“Should powerful people and institutions continue to show an inability to tolerate rebuke or criticism, we would be reduced to a country of incarcerated artists and flourishing lapdogs. If this court believes I have crossed a line and wants to shut down my internet indefinitely, then I too will write Happy Independence Day post cards every 15th August, just like my Kashmiri friends,” he said. The comedian said that he believes that there is growing culture in intolerance in this country, where taking offence is seen as a fundamental right and has been elevated to the status of a much loved national indoor sport.
“We are witnessing an assault on the freedom of speech and expression, with comedians like Munawar Farooqi being jailed for jokes that they have not been made, and school students being interrogated for sedition. At such a time, I hope that this court will demonstrate that the freedom of speech and expression is cardinal constitutional value, and recognise that the possibility of being offended is a necessary incident to the exercise of this right, he said. The Language and style I resort to are not with the intention to insult, but to draw attention to and prompt an engagement with issues that I believe are relevant to our democracy and which have also been raised in the public domain by more serious and learned commentators,” he said.
Kamra further said he believes that constitutional offices — including judicial offices — know no protection from jokes. “I do not believe that any high authority, including judges, would find themselves unable to discharge their duties only on account of being the subject of satire or comedy,” he said. Defending his tweets he said, that they were not published with the intention to diminish the faith of the people in the highest court of our democracy.
He said the suggestion that the tweets could shake the foundation of the most powerful court in the world is an over-estimation of his abilities. Just as the Supreme Court values the faith the public places in it (and seek to protect it by the exercise of its criminal contempt jurisdiction), it should also trust the public not to form its opinion of the court on the basis of a few jokes on Twitter. The public’s faith in the judiciary is founded on the institution’s own actions, and not on any criticism or commentary about it, he said.
Kamra said that jokes are based on a comedian’s perception, which they use to make the audience that shares that perception laugh. “Most people do not react to jokes that don’t make them laugh; they ignore them like our political leaders ignore their critics. That is where the like of joke must end. The truth about the attention economy is that the more attention one gives to criticism or ridicule, the more credible it appears to be, he said.
On December 18 last year, the top court issued show-cause notice to Kamra for his alleged scandalous tweets against the apex court and exempted him from personal appearances. Attorney General K K Venugopal had granted consent for initiation of criminal contempt proceedings against Kamra, saying the comedian’s tweets were in “bad taste” and it was time that people understand that attacking the apex court brazenly would attract punishment.
The consent of either the attorney general or the solicitor general is necessary under Section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act for initiating contempt proceedings against a person. Criminal contempt of the Supreme Court is punishable with a fine of up to Rs 2,000 and imprisonment of up to six months.
One of petitions in the Kamra case has been filed by law student Shrirang Katneshwarkar and others. They have claimed that the stand-up comedian had started publishing tweets on November 11 last year when the top court was hearing the appeal of Arnab Goswami against the Bombay High Court’s order rejecting the journalist’s plea seeking interim bail in a 2018 abetment-to-suicide case.
The plea alleged that after the top court granted interim bail to Goswami on November 11, Kamra “again published various tweets and thereby scandalized” the apex court and “further lowered” its authority. .