The Madurai bench of Madras High Court on Thursday convicted a popular YouTuber and controversial commentator on Tamil Nadu politics of criminal contempt and sentenced him to six-month imprisonment for his allegations about corruption in higher judiciary.
The court had taken suo motu cognizance of the allegations Savukku Shankar made in an interview to a YouTube channel, Red Pix, on July 22. In it, Shankar alleged that the “entire higher judiciary is plagued by corruption”.
In the order, Justices G R Swaminathan and B Pugalendhi said: “We would have closed the proceedings if the contemnor had realised his mistake and sincerely apologised. (But) far from doing so, the contemnor stuck to his position. In fact, his conduct during the last few weeks would constitute acts of contempt on their own. We consciously refrain from referring to them.”
The court observed, “The contemnor is a suspended employee of the state government. He is receiving a subsistence allowance for the last 13 years. He is governed by conduct rules. Yet, he has been attacking all three organs of the State in a vicious manner.”
The order stated: “He cannot tar the entire institution with a single brush. That would be crossing the lakshman rekha by a long shot. It is not as if the said remark accidentally tumbled out of his mouth — it was not a slip of the tongue. As the contemnor himself asserted, he has been in the field for almost 13 years.”
The bench noted that Shankar had admitted making all the statements in question. “It does not require a forensic mind to conclude that they are ex-facie scandalous. They denigrate and deride the institution of judiciary,” the order noted.
A familiar face on Tamil digital platforms, Shankar has thousands of followers on different social media networks for his self-styled activism and attempts to take on everyone in the establishment, including the judiciary. He was suspended from the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption in Tamil Nadu more than a decade ago on charges of leaking an audio tape of the then DMK minister from the department — an incident that led to the minister’s resignation.
Shankar had faced a separate suo motu contempt proceedings on July 19 by Justice Swaminathan, one of the judges who delivered Thursday’s order, over a tweet alleging that Justice Swaminathan had met an RSS leader at a temple on the outskirts of Madurai before the release of a YouTuber seen as sympathetic to the Hindutva brigade. Shankar tweeted it after the judge’s order releasing the YouTuber.
Referring to that tweet, the court said in Thursday’s order that Shankar was “clearly suggesting that the outcome of the said case was influenced by the person whom one of us allegedly met (at a Madurai temple)”.
Noting that Shankar is already facing criminal contempt proceedings, the court said in its order, “Yet, he has made the offending statements. The contemnor has reiterated his resolve to continue his attack on the judiciary. He has gone to the extent of stating that he can be sentenced only to a maximum of six months and after coming out he will focus all his attention exclusively on judges and the judiciary.”
Shankar had faced the wrath of Madras HC back in 2014, too, when the court ordered him to block his Tamil website — savukku.net — with the observation that it was “vituperative and tarnishing the reputation” of many prominent people, including judges and police officers. But Shankar continued to operate his website, claiming to expose corruption reports through proxy URLs — ctselvam.com, ctselvam.net — in the name of a former Madras HC judge, Justice Cyril Thamarai Selvam, who ordered the site to be blocked.
On Thursday, the HC noted that Shankar’s website http://www.savukkuonline.com was registered in the name of Justice C T Selvam, which “…we may remind, is the name of a sitting judge of this court, as does the admin name and depicts the continuous nature of contempt.”
The counsel appearing for the High Court registry said that the “charges pertain to scandalising the judiciary”.
The order quoted the words of late Supreme Court judge, Justice V R Krishna Iyer, that “justice fails when judges quail”. The bench said, “We do not propose to quail…. There are occasions when judges have to be firm and stern. Shrugging off such provocations by stating that we possess broad shoulders would be seen as a sign of weakness.”