HC quashes criminal proceedings against cartoonist Bala

The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has quashed the criminal proceedings against cartoonist G. Bala that was instituted in 2017. He had been booked on charges of allegedly defaming then Chief Minister (Edappadi K Palaniswami), Tirunelveli Collector and Police Commissioner in a caricature following the usury related self immolation of a family in Tirunelveli.

Justice G. Ilangovan observed that there was no criminality involved in the cartoon drawn by the cartoonist and quashed the first information report registered against him by Tirunelveli police based on the complaint by the then Tirunelveli Collector. The court observed that the petitioner wanted to express his anger, grief and criticism.

The court said that the cartoonist wanted to express his anger on the inability of the administration in containing the collection of exorbitant interest by money lenders. This cannot be construed as an intention to defame, the court said. The incident claimed the lives of four people on the premises of Tirunelveli Collectorate.

The caricature does not contain any criminality but ethical questions may be involved. The court cannot teach ethicality to people. It is for the society to evolve and follow ethical standards. In a democratic country, freedom of thought, expressions and speech are the foundations upon which democracy survives, the judge said.

But freedom has its own limitations. It was not boundless and whether a particular criticism by cartoonists was well within bounds has to be decided only in the context of the particular issue. The context was the determining factor. Words spoken and cartoon drawn if taken away from the context, would lose its soul and life, the judge said.

In 2017, a labourer set himself and his family ablaze at the Tirunelveli Collectorate. He had submitted repeated petitions to the Collector on the harassment made by a money lender. After cartoonist Bala drew the caricature, Tirunelveli police had registered the FIR.

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