HC quashes FIR against cartoonist Bala

‘No criminality involved in the cartoon drawn by the cartoonist’

The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has quashed the criminal proceedings against cartoonist G. Bala that was instituted in 2017.

The cartoonist had been booked on charges of allegedly defaming then Chief Minister [Edappadi K. Palaniswami], the Tirunelveli Collector and the Police Commissioner in a caricature drawn by him 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 the 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 he 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 in on the premises of the Tirunelveli Collectorate.

The caricature does not contain any criminality. But, ethical questions may involve. The court cannot teach ethicality to people. It was for 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 at the same time it has its own limitations. It is 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 is the determining factor. Words spoken and cartoon drawn if taken away from the context, it will 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 submission to the Collector on the harassment by a money lender. After cartoonist Mr. Bala drew the caricature in criticism of the authorities, Tirunelveli police registered the FIR. The court quashed the FIR.

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