Court cannot teach ethics to people: Madras High Court quashes criminal defamation case for cartoon published on Facebook

Court cannot teach ethics to people, the Madras High Court recently observed as it quashed a criminal defamation case against a person who had published a cartoon on his Facebook page.

Justice G Ilangovan said that the action of the petitioner did not involve any criminality though it might have been unethical.

The petitioner in the case, Balamurugan, had published a cartoon on his personal Facebook page regarding a self-immolation incident that took place outside the District Collector’s office in Tirunelveli in 2017.

The cartoon portrayed the burning body of a baby with three nude figures, the District Collector, the Superintendent of Police and the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu watching the same, their private parts covered with currency notes.

The District Collector preferred a complaint against Balamurugan deeming the cartoon to be obscene, insulting and defamatory. Based on the same, a case was registered for offences punishable under Section 501 of Indian Penal Code (criminal defamation) and Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form).

The accused preferred a petition before the High Court to quash the First Information Report (FIR).
The Court said that the question for consideration was “from where the fundamental rights of freedom of thought and expression must begin and where it must end.”

While some may feel that the cartoon was an over exaggeration or obscene, others may feel that it conveyed the indifference of authorities in protecting the life of the citizens, the Court observed.

Therefore, while the cartoon might have caused feeling of humiliation in the mind of the Collector, the intention of the petitioner was to depict the attitude of authorities regarding the demand of exorbitant interest by the money lenders.

Advocate S Vanchinathan appeared for the petitioner while Government Advocate M Ganesan appeared for the State.