‘Kunal Kamra’ and ‘controversy’. This pair is not new in the political market, and neither is the practice of slapping contempt charges on somebody. But when a Contempt charge is put against a comedian, who has been a vocal critic of the government, then it raises questions on the “intent of the move”.
Recently, the comedian attracted contempt charges against him after he posted a series of tweets on Supreme Court’s decision on Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami’s bail plea.
Over the years, many individuals, media houses and others were charged with Contempt of Court, but a wave of criticism wasn’t experienced as in the case of Mr Kamra. Here, many top BJP leaders tried to acknowledge the “unlawful act” and demanded strict action against the Mumbai-based stand-up comedian.
Here’s a list of incidents where individuals, institutions and people in legal affairs were slammed with contempt of Court:
Contempt Of Court Over Years
- Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of India noted that the tweets made by Mr Bhushan on current and four previous chief justices of India amounted to criminal contempt of Court. Mr Bhushan was held accountable for the tweet about a picture of Chief Justice S A Bobde sitting on a high-end bike without wearing a mask during the lockdown. In the subsequent tweet, Mr Bhushan suggestively commented on the role played by the last four Chief Justices of India in lieu of the country’s current situation.
- Back in 2001, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to the editor and journalist Madhu Trehan as well as four other people, in relation with an article published in their magazine, Wah India. The paper had asked senior advocates in Delhi to anonymously rate state High Court judges on varied grounds, including their honesty. The Delhi High Court found these advocates as guilty of contempt, but accepted an apology and did not penalize the offence.
- In 2015, Madras High Court judge, C S Karnan, kept in touch with the Supreme Court, showing that he would start contempt of court procedures against the then-Chief Justice of India, H L Dattu, with regards to a dispute about the treatment of Dalit judges in the judiciary. The Supreme Court thus, started contempt of court procedures against Justice Karnan, condemning him to a half year’s detainment. Justice Karnan at first would not acknowledge the warrant for his arrest yet was later held in custody and served the time of detainment.
- In 2003, the Karnataka High Court started contempt procedures against 56 people, including publishers, editors, and writers, from 14 publishers. They had conveyed reports about a supposed sex scandal in Mysore, in which few High Court judges had been trapped. An investigation cleared the appointed authorities from deviant behaviour, and the disdain procedures ultimately remained.
- In 2002, author Arundhati Roy was arrested and accused of contempt of Court by the Supreme Court of India, after she had written an article where she scrutinized one of the Court’s decisions concerning the Narmada Dam, and took an interest in a dissent for this outside the Court. Following her arrest, Ms Roy offered a further expression scrutinizing the Supreme Court’s initiation of contempt procedures against her. She turned down the Court’s proposal to permit her to get away from punishment with an apology. She was imprisoned for one day and fined 2,000 rupees. In 2016, Ms Roy faced contempt of court procedures again after she criticized the capture of Delhi University professor G N Saibaba, who was imprisoned for supposed connections to Maoists in India.
Recent Case Of Kunal Kamra
It was on November 12 that Attorney General KK Venugopal gave his consent to eight people who objected the tweets made by Mr Kamra and desired to sue him for criminal contempt. Mr Kamra is famous for his political comedy which is usually filled with satire and sarcasm; this has landed him into the wrong places.
This time, he is said to be guilty of putting out a series of tweets on November 11, in which he targeted the Supreme Court and called it as a joke for granting interim bail to Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami a week after his arrest over the suicide of an interior designer, Anvay Naik, and his mother back in 2018. The statements by him looks offensive in the legally according to many lawyers.
A bench of two-judge Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice Indira Banerjee pulled up the Maharashtra government over the journalist’s arrest. It said: “If we as a constitutional court do not lay down the law and protect liberty, then who will?” adding to it Justice Chandrachud also remarked, ‘If you don’t like his channel, don’t watch it.’ Many eminent personalities and people also quoted Justice Chandrachud and tried to highlight the irony present concerning the allegations on Mr Kamra.
After the whole fiasco, Mr Kamra took to Twitter and wrote “No lawyers, No apology, No fine, No waste of space” following this tweet was a three-page long response to everything that happened around the whole contempt of court matter.
Contempt Of Court in India
In the Constitution of India, contempt of Court holds an important place, as a rule-abiding citizen of the country; every individual is expected to obey it.
According to the Contempt of Court Act of 1971, “Contempt of court is an offence of disobedience or disrespect towards a court of law and its officers in the form of conduct that opposes or challenges the authority, justice and dignity of the court.” Contempt of Court is a constitutional power placed in the hands of the Supreme Court of India.
The Article 129 of the Indian Constitution of India says “The Supreme Court of India shall be a court of record and shall have all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself.”
Superior courts of record have the forces to rebuff scorns identifying with the judges of those courts and the procedures of the same. The chief point of the ward is to protect the dignity of the Court and the due organization of equity.
However, constructive criticism is the spine of a democracy. From the surface it looks like, the top judges of the country have failed to be open-minded in initiating contempt proceedings and have profoundly used their complete discretion to take action against comments that might have hurt their sentiments which may not necessarily affect the public opinion of the Court altogether.
In doing so, it has only gone on to hinder the civil liberties guaranteed under the Constitution and has affected a massive blow to India’s already shattering democratic foundations.
The judges need to distinguish between statements that result in hurting of personal sentiment and those that malign the image of the Court before initiating contempt proceedings.
Moreover, the courts must become broad-shouldered and adopt a liberal approach to criticisms to avoid the risk of shaping into an authoritarian regime, where it is above all criticism. On the other hand, where the country’s image is being compromised, strict actions should be taken democratically without being biased towards either one.