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Arundathi Roy jailed for contempt of court

The Booker prize winner, Arundhati Roy, being taken to the Tihar jail from the Supreme Court in New Delhi on Wednesday. - Photo: Shanker Chakravarthy

The Booker prize winner, Arundhati Roy, being taken to the Tihar jail from the Supreme Court in New Delhi on Wednesday. - Photo: Shanker Chakravarthy  

NEW DELHI, MARCH 6. The Supreme Court today convicted the Booker Prize winner, Arundathi Roy, for having ``committed criminal contempt of this court by scandalising its authority with mala fide intentions'' and sentenced her to a ``symbolic imprisonment'' for one day and pay a fine of Rs. 2,000; in default, to undergo a simple imprisonment for three months.

(The Supreme Court had issued a suo motu contempt notice to Ms. Roy, taking exception to a few paragraphs in an affidavit filed by her in reply to a petition seeking initiation of contempt proceedings against her for allegedly raising slogans against the court during a demonstration at its gate in December 2000. The court discharged her from the proceedings in that petition but issued notice on the basis of some paragraphs in her reply).

Ms. Roy was taken to Tihar jail around noon. In her reaction, she said in a statement ``I stand by what I said (in the affidavit to the court) and I am prepared to suffer the consequences.'' Later, her counsel, Prashant Bhushan, told The Hindu that Ms. Roy would take a decision tomorrow on paying the fine.

After the judgment was delivered, the activists of Narmada Bachao Andolan shouted slogans outside the courtroom demanding ``justice.''

A Bench comprising G. B. Pattanaik and Sethi observed that a ``fair criticism of the conduct of a judge, the institution of Judiciary and its functioning may not amount to contempt if it is made in good faith and in public interest.'' But, Ms. Roy ``during the whole of the proceeding has not shown any repentance or remorse and persistently and consistently tried to justify her action which, prima facie, was found to be contemptuous.''

Speaking for the Bench, Justice Sethi said ``to frustrate the present proceedings, the respondent has resorted to all legal tactics and pretenses.'' All the citizens could not be permitted to comment upon the conduct of courts in the name of fair criticism which, if not checked, would destroy the institution itself.

``When a scurrilous attack is made in relation to a pending proceeding and the noticee states that the issuance of notice was intended to silence criticism and muzzle dissent, to harass and intimidate those who disagree with it, it is a direct attack on the institution itself, rather than the conduct of an individual judge,'' the Bench said.

On Ms. Roy's submission that the court's shoulders were broad enough to ``shrug off'' such comments, the Bench said that in view of the utterances in her ``show causes'' and the absence of a word of remorse till the conclusion of the hearing ``it is difficult for us either to shrug off or to hold the accusations made as comments of an outspoken ordinary man and permit the wrongheaded to err therein, as observed by Lord Atkin.''

Pronouncing Ms. Roy guilty, the Bench said ``showing the magnanimity of law by keeping in mind that the respondent is a woman and hoping that better sense and wisdom shall dawn upon her in future to serve the cause of art and literature by her creative skill and imagination, we feel that the ends of justice would be met if she is sentenced to symbolic imprisonment...''

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