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A Cartoonist Must Be Able To Work Without Any Inhibition: Madras HC Quashes Complaint Against Cartoon Portraying DMK Members As ‘Monkeys’ [Read Order]

‘Apes are after all our primitive ancestors. They are our distant cousins. Our culture sees divinity in every aspect of nature.’, the Court said.

The Madras High Court recently quashed complaint filed against A cartoonist and publisher for portraying DMK members as monkeys, observing that a cartoonist must be able to work without any inhibition and he is entitled to greater latitude.

The cartoon published in Dinamalar had portrayed DMK leader M Karunanidhi as the cap seller while the party workers were shown as the monkeys taking cue from the story “The Cap Seller and the Monkeys”. On the defamation complaint filed, the magistrate court had issued summons, challenging which the cartoonist, editor and publisher of Dinamalar news daily approached the High Court.

Observing that a cartoonist is entitled to greater latitude, Justice GR Swaminathan said: “The present cartoon is seen by a normal newspaper reader, he would simply laugh. In fact, the very object of cartooning is to produce such an effect in the reader. No doubt, the party workers have been lampooned. But, they would definitely not come down in the esteem of the general public on this account. If the moral of the story is borne in mind, the cartoon would be seen as complimenting the party president for his sagacity. No doubt, law has to come to the rescue of a person who feels defamed. But then, law envisages a reasonable person and not a touchy and hyper-sensitive individual like the respondent.”

A cartoonist must be able to work without any inhibition

The court also said when applying the yardstick of defamation in the case of cartoons, the threshold must be very high. “In Tamil Nadu, there have been a number of celebrated cartoonists. Many of us grew up enjoying the cartoons of Madhan that appeared in Ananda Vikatan. The cartoons that appear in Thuglak continue to enrich our understanding of politics. The cartoons of Keshav and Surendra appearing in ‘The Hindu’ enliven our mornings. A cartoonist must be able to work without any inhibition. He should not be under any stress that his caricature would be followed by a criminal prosecution. Of course, this Court would not suggest that a cartoonist can do anything he pleases,” the judge said.

The court also reminded the complainant that DMK working president MK Stalin had last year condemned arrest of cartoonist G Bala saying that it was against the freedom of expression. This Court is of the view that the respondent herein should take inspiration from his leader, the court said.

The court also said the cartoon complained of would certainly fall within the third exception to offence of defamation. “The cartoon in this case is pictorial representation of an issue of public importance. There is nothing intrinsically defamatory in the said cartoon,” the court added.

All living creatures have inherent dignity

Interestingly, the court further observed that there is an ‘underlying arrogance’ in this complaint.

“All living creatures have inherent dignity. Human life, we often say, is not like animal existence. This view has an anthropocentric bias. We forget the fact that animals have also got intrinsic worth and value. Now there is a slow but observable shift from the anthropocentric approach to a more nature’s right centric approach in International Environmental Law and Animal Welfare Laws. In recent multinational instruments, the intrinsic value of nature is asserted and there is a shift to nonanthropocentric human- independent terminology. Rights of animals have been recognized in various countries. Protection of animals has been guaranteed. The German Constitution talks of “Animal Dignity”. Thus, the dignity of the animals is constitutionally recognized in that country. The Animal Welfare Act of Norway affirms that animals have an intrinsic value which is irrespective of the usable value they may have for man. Our Hon’ble Supreme Court announced in ringing terms that animals also have honour and dignity,” the court observed.

“Apes are after all our primitive ancestors. They are our distant cousins. Our culture sees divinity in every aspect of nature. Hanuman, the monkey god is a hero as well as a venerated deity. Mahakavi Bharathi in his Papa Paatu calls upon us to love and take inspiration from birds and animals. Man occupies a higher spot in the evolutionary hierarchy. But, that does not make him superior to others. This is because, in the natural scheme of things, one is integrally linked to every other,” the judge remarked.

Read the Order Here

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