Law

'Country of Incarcerated Artists & Flourishing Lapdogs' is Where India is Headed, Kamra Tells SC

To believe that an institution can be beyond all criticism in a democracy is irrational and undemocratic, the comedian has said in an affidavit to the Supreme Court, where he will be tried for contempt.

New Delhi: Comedian Kunal Kamra has said in a counter-affidavit to the Supreme Court that anyone who believes he can shake the foundations of the most powerful court in the country is over-estimating his abilities, and that “The public’s faith in the judiciary is founded on the institutions own actions, and not on any criticism or commentary about it”.

He has added that his tweets, for which he has been charged with contempt of court, were not meant to insult the Supreme Court but to raise issues he thinks are important for Indian democracy, and create conversation around them. To believe that an institution can be beyond all criticism in a democracy is irrational and undemocratic, Kamra says, similar to saying migrants must find their own way home during a sudden, unplanned national lockdown.

Kamra has never claimed, he says in the affidavit, that his jokes are reality – they are merely a comedian’s perceptions, which often “blunt the grimes of the situation” in order to try and make people laugh. If someone does not find a joke funny, he argues, they may simply ignore it and move on – as the government does with criticism coming its way.

The comedian also points to a “growing culture of intolerance in the country, where taking offence is seen as a fundamental right which has been elevated to the status of a much loved national sport”. The case against fellow comedian Munawar Faruqui, who has spent a month in jail now for a joke he didn’t even crack, points to this, the affidavit says. “We are witnessing an assault on freedom of speech and expression with comedians like Munnawar Faruqui jailed for jokes they have not made and school students being interrogated for sedition. At such a time I hope this Court will display that freedom of speech and expression is a cardinal principle,” according to Kamra.

Also read: No Contempt of Court in Satire, AG Wrong to Target Kunal Kamra, Rachita Taneja: Mukul Rohatgi

In December, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal had consented to contempt proceedings being initiated against Kamra and the Supreme court had issued a show-cause notice to the comedian. This was the second time in about a fortnight that the attorney general has allowed for contempt proceedings against Kamra, after his series of tweets had criticised the Supreme Court following the bail secured by television anchor Arnab Goswami at the top court the first time.

In his tweet on November 18, Kamra posted a picture of his index and middle finger against an airplane window with the caption: “One of these 2 fingers is for CJI Arvind Bobde… ok let me not confuse you it’s the middle one.”

Granting his consent to contempt proceedings, Venugopal said Kamra’s tweet was not only aimed at “deliberately” insulting CJI but also to undermine the faith litigants place in the apex court.

The first time when Venugopal had allowed for contempt proceedings against him, Kamra said he does not intend to retract his tweets. “No lawyers, No apology, No fine, No waste of space,” he had tweeted.

Read Kamra’s full statement below.

AFFIDAVIT ON BEHALF OF THE RESPONDENT

I, Kunal Kamra, son of Mr. Naresh D. Kamra, aged about 32 years, residing at     Mumbai 400016, and presently at New Delhi, do hereby solemnly affirm and state on oath as follows:

1. That I am the Respondent in the above mentioned Contempt Petition and being familiar with the facts and circumstances of the case, hence am competent to swear this

2. That I have understood the contents of the present Contempt Petition filed by the Petitioner herein and I am filing the instant Affidavit to state as

3. Some people who did not find a few of my tweets funny have approached this Court seeking that 1 be prosecuted and punished for criminal contempt of

4. I believe there need be no defence for jokes. Jokes are based on a comedian’s perception which they use to make the audience that shares that perception laugh. These jokes are not reality, and don’t claim to be so. 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 life of a 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.

5. Through my work, I attempt to abide by comedy’s tenet of comforting the afflicted, and afflictlng the comfortable. Take for instance the joke ‘Behind every successful Indian businessman there is a nationalised bank’. The humour attempts to blunt the grimness of the situation, and offers a measure of comfort to the afflicted, including the families of citizens who find themselves unable to withdraw their hard earned money from their bank Jokes like these at best make the comfortable squirm in their plush chairs, even as they sit secure in the knowledge that a joke cannot make the heavens fall.

6. My tweets were not published with the intention of diminishing the faith of the people in the highest court of our It is funny though, how little faith the Petitioner appears to have in the people of this country. The suggestion that my tweets could shake the foundations of the most powerful court in the world is an over-estimation of my abilities. Just as the Supreme Court values the faith the public places in it (and seeks to protect it by the exercise of its criminal contempt jurisdiction), in the judiciary is founded on the instiution s own actions, and not on any criticism or commentary about it.

7. To believe any institution of power in a democracy is beyond criticism is like saying migrants need to find their way back home during an ill-planned, nationwide lockdown: it is irrational and Judges of our constitutional courts are amongst the most powerful people in our country. They have extraordinary powers over the fundamental rights and lives of citizens of this country, and their office and tenure are constitutionally protected to shield them from political interference. However, I believe that constitutional offices — including judicial offices —know no protection from jokes. 1 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.

8. Irreverence and hyperbole are essential tools for the comedic enterprise. A comic raises questions on issues of public interest in their own unique 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.

9. Comedy does not permit an artist the luxury of articulating the basis of jokes through long, nuanced essays or measured prose. Brevity may not bc a familiar concept for the legal community, but it continues to be the soul of comedy (and Twitter — with its  280 character  limit).  I would  be happy  to take advice on comedy from the Petitioners, but that requires that they have a sense of humour first.

10. I believe that there ls a growing culture of 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 even 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 a cardinal constitutional value, and recognise that the possibility of being offended ls a necessary incident to the exercise of this right. 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.

11. Lastly, 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.

PDF:

Kunal Kamra’s affidavit by The Wire on Scribd