Updated: January 30, 2021 9:17:39 am
Stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra, who is facing contempt of court charges for his tweets against judges and judiciary, Friday told the Supreme Court that his “tweets were not published with intention of diminishing people’s faith in the highest court of our democracy” and that “the suggestion that my tweets could shake the foundations of the most powerful court in the world is an over-estimation of my abilities”.
In an affidavit filed in response to the notice issued by the top court, Kamra said “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), it should also trust the public not to form its opinions of the Court on the basis of a few jokes on Twitter”. He added that “the public’s faith in the judiciary is founded on the institution’s own actions and not on any criticism or commentary about it”.
Kamra said “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”.
Citing the fellow stand-up comedy artist Munawar Farooqui, he said “we are witnessing an assault on the freedom of speech and expression with comedians like Munawar Farooqui being jailed for jokes that they have not even made, and school students being interrogated for sedition”.
He said that “at such time”, he hoped 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 is a necessary incident to the exercise of this right” and added that “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”.
The comedian also said that if the court concludes that he has crossed a line “and wants to shut down my internet permanently, then I too will write Happy Independence Day every 15th August just like my Kashmiri friends”.
The affidavit largely sought to colour his tweets as “jokes” and said “I believe there need be no defence for jokes”.
“Jokes”, he said “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”.
Kamra said that “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 undemocratic”.
“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 sheild them from political interference”.
Kamra said that he, however, believes that “constitutional offices — including judicial offices – know no protection from jokes” and added that “I 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”.
The stand-up comedian said that his “language and style…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”.