New Delhi: Stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra Friday offered no defence for his jokes to the Supreme Court, saying they were based on a comedian’s perception, and used to make the audience that shared that perception laugh.
“There’s no defence for jokes… These jokes are not reality and don’t claim to be so. Most people do not reach to jokes that don’t make them laugh; they ignore them like our political leaders ignore their critics,” read Kamra’s affidavit filed in response to a contempt notice issued to him by the top court.
A bench led by Ashok Bhushan had on 18 December issued contempt notices to Kamra on a batch of petitions filed against him over his tweets attacking the top court for granting bail to Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami after his arrest in an abetment to suicide case.
The bench took up the matter Friday, but adjourned it by two weeks for the petitioners to file their response to Kamra’s affidavit.
Eight people, mostly lawyers, have filed the cases after permission was granted to them by Attorney General K.K. Venugopal.
Kamra “believes that constitutional offices, including judicial offices, know no protection from jokes,” and “should powerful people and institutions show an inability to tolerate rebuke or criticism, we would be reduced to a country of incarcerated artists and flourishing lapdogs”.
His affidavit goes on to refer to comedian Munawar Faruqui’s case to highlight the “growing culture of intolerance in this country,” where, according to Kamra, taking offence is seen as a fundamental right and has been elevated to the status of much-loved indoor sport”.
Kamra said if the court believed he crossed a line and wanted to shut down internet service provided to him indefinitely, then he too “will be happy to write Happy Independence Day” postcards every 15 August, just like his “Kashmiri friends”.
He submitted that he may disagree with “many decisions of many courts in many matters,” but he promises to respect whatever decision comes his way “with a broad smile”.
“I will not vilify this bench of the Supreme Court in this matter, specifically because that would actually be contempt of court,” stated his affidavit.
Through his work, Kamra submitted, he attempts to abide by “comedy’s tenet of comforting the afflicted, and afflicting the comfortable”.
As an instance, he quoted and explained the purpose of the joke, “Behind every successful Indian businessman, there is a nationalised bank”.
“The humour attempts to blunt the grimness of the situation, and offers a measure of comfort to the afflicted, including families of citizens who find themselves unable to withdraw their hard-earned money from their bank accounts,” he said.
Jokes like these, Kamra added, at best make the comfortable squirm in their plush chairs, even as they sit secure in the knowledge that a joke cannot make the heavens fall.
There are some who ignore such jokes and that is where “life of a joke must end,” he submitted.
Also read: No laughing matter — all the comedians who got into trouble for trying to be funny
‘Over-estimation of his abilities’
About his tweets against the apex court, Kamra felt the suggestion that they could shake the foundations of the most powerful court in the world is an “over-estimation of his abilities”.
Such a suggestion by the petitioners, he said, reveals how little faith they appear to have in the people of this country. Public faith, he said, is founded on the institution’s own actions, and not any criticism or commentary.
Just as the top court values the faith the public places in it, it should also trust the public not to form its opinions of the court on the basis of a few jokes on Twitter, Kamra added.
According to him, it is “irrational” and “undemocratic” to believe that any institution of power in a democracy is beyond criticism. It is akin to saying that migrants need to find their way back home “during ill-planned, nationwide lockdown,” he asserted.
Being the most powerful people in the country, judges of constitutional courts have extraordinary powers over the fundamental rights and lives of citizens. Their offices are protected to shield them from political interference. But that does not mean that they would find themselves unable to discharge their duties only on account of being the subject of satire or comedy, Kamra said.
‘Irreverence essential tool of comedy’
The comic artist also reasoned on the language and style he resorts to. The same is not with an intention to insult, but to draw attention, prompt and engagement with issues that he believes are relevant to democracy, and have also been raised in the public domain by more serious and learned commentators.
“Irreverence and hyperbole are essential tools for the comedic enterprise,” he said.
Comedy does not permit an artist the luxury of articulating the basis of jokes through long, nuanced essays or measured prose. Brevity may not be a familiar concept for the legal community, but it continues to be the soul of comedy, including on Twitter where there is a limit to write within 280 characters, Kamra stated.
He said he was happy to take advice from the petitioners on comedy, but that would require them to have a sense of humour first.
Also read: ‘No apology, no fine’, Kunal Kamra says on possible contempt case over tweets against SC
Truly a beautifully written argument presented. No constitutional institution or public institution or public figure is above and beyond the speech of criticism and that too when it is well founded. We should even question the intentions of judiciary specially if it comes to the point when it seems it is no longer free from political influence.
It’s quite ridiculous to convict a comedian of “contempt of court”.They clearly just want to take away our right to speech
Mr. Kamra is a bit too “comfortable”. The Supreme Court judges must ensure that he is “afflicted” quite gravely.
strictest action must be taken against this clown. what he does is not sense of humor. he is hurtful, vengeful, hateful towards his opponents. this clown misbehaved with a passenger in an airplane, its not important that the passenger was arnab goswami. many people dont like many people! does this mean we will jump and shout at them in airplanes, trains and terrorize the passengers and spoil their journey? many of us dont agree with many other things, but while criticizing supreme court will we launch attacks on the judiciary and their intentions? was this clown aware of facts before the judges? unlike in case of prashant bhushan, the punishment must be punitive and exemplary. martyrdom in social media is an overrated trait, actual jail time is not!
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