HC relief for Tamil writer Ki. Ra.

Ki. Rajanarayanan

Ki. Rajanarayanan   | Photo Credit: T_Singaravelou


Observes that the writer had no intention to hurt SC people


Closing the criminal proceedings initiated against well-known Tamil writer K. Rajanarayanan (Ki.Ra), 97, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on Thursday observed that many had paid with their lives for exercising freedom of expression, the basic human right.

The court was hearing a petition filed by Ki.Ra., who sought to quash the criminal proceedings pending before the Judicial Magistrate II, Madurai. The complaint, filed by P. Kathiresan with Tallakulam police, alleged that Ki.Ra., in an interview to an online magazine, had used the expression ‘avan’ while referring to Scheduled Castes, instead of ‘avar’. He said the term was disrespectful.

Delivering the verdict, Justice G.R. Swaminathan observed that right from Sangam literature the term ‘avan’ was used to denote even highly revered characters. Whether it was rude or disrespectful would depend on the context, the judge said.

“Violence is the most extreme threat to freedom of expression. Many have paid with their lives for exercising this basic human right,” the court said. British historian Timothy Garton Ash, in his seminal work ‘Free Speech’, would call it ‘The assassin’s veto.’ American free speech scholar Harry Kalven Jr. coined the term ‘Heckler’s veto’ to describe the way a speaker can be silenced in a public meeting. To these can be added ‘Prosecutor’s veto.’ It is setting criminal law in motion to target those legitimately exercising their right of speech and expression,” he said.

The court observed that the writer had no intention to hurt SC people and he simply gave the reasons for his not chronicling their lives. Neither the magistrate nor the police should exhibit alacrity to take cognisance or register a case in such matters. Every time they received such complaints, they must dust their knowledge of law relating to free speech, Justice Swaminathan added.

Section 66 A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, was struck down as unconstitutional taking note of its chilling effect on free speech. Magistrates must realise that complaints such as the one on hand produced similar effect and led to stifling of this fundamental freedom. They must be on guard and adopt a nuanced approach in such cases, the court said.

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 11:08:52 AM |

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