Article 19 of the Constitution of India dealing with the essential and necessary fundamental rights part and parcel to the existence of every citizen of India. Freedom to express one’s thoughts and expressions is paramount to criticize, analyse and/or highlight the essential facets that are in existence and part of the society. Extending upon the interpretation of freedom of expression, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court ruled on a cartoonist’s artwork which was alleged to be demeaning and defaming. Referring to a tale of “The Cap Seller and the Monkeys”, a cartoonist i.e. one of the Petitioners furnished the theme for cartooning some developments in Dravida Munnetra Kalagham, a political party. Its leader Dr.M.Karunanidhi was portrayed as the cap seller while the party workers were shown as the monkeys. Following the defemation complaint filed by the Respondent, who is a supporter and ardent member of the Dravida Munnetra Kalagham, the following petition sought to challenge the merits of the complaint against the Petitioners who are the Cartoonist, Editor and Publisher of the Newspaper.
The Bench presided upon by Justice G.R. Swaminathan noted that Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India embodies the fundamental right of the citizens to freedom of speech and expression includes within its scope the cartoonists also by way of a restriction under Article 19(2). It was stated that
“A Cartoonist does not have the license to defame. What is criminal defamation is defined in Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code. But then, the standard set out in 499 of IPC cannot be applied in the same measure to all forms of freedom of speech and expression.” The court referred to the decision in Devidas Ramachandra Tuljapurkar v. State of Maharastra (2015) 6 SCC 1 wherein the Supreme Court referred to a German cartoon portraying a well-known politician as a pig copulating with another pig dressed in judicial robes. It was observed by the German Court that where there was a conflict with human dignity, artistic freedom must always be subordinate to personality rights.
Whilst addressing the applicability of Section 499 of the IPC by the Respondent’s complaint the court observed as follows:
“Section 499 of IPC has as many as nine exceptions. The third exception states that it is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion whatever respecting the conduct of any person touching any public question. The respondent complainant has no where alleged that the petitioners have not acted in good faith. The cartoon in this case is pictorial representation of an issue of public importance. There is nothing intrinsically defamatory in the said cartoon. In any event, it would certainly fall within the third exception.”
The Court quashed the impugned proceedings on the file of the Judicial Magistrate, Theni by allowing the present Criminal Original Petition and consequently closing the connected miscellaneous petition.
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