Abhishek G Bhaya
There has been much uproar — and rightly so – since Indian comedian Kiku Sharda’s arrest on Wednesday over mimicking Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh ‘Insan’, the self-styled guru of Dera Sacha Sauda.
While the pretence on which the comedian was arrested in itself is bizarre (when did mimicry become a crime?), the bigger surprise for me was that a court decided to send Sharda to a 14-day judicial custody for the alleged crime.
Police in India are known to work at the behest of their political masters, so the action of Haryana police in arresting the comedian could still be viewed as Chief Minister ML Khattar’s attempt to return a favour to the Dera Chief for his support to BJP in 2014 Assembly elections.
However, for a court to even consider such a frivolous case is a matter of grave concern. Mind you, this is not the first time that an Indian court has chosen to entertain such ridiculous complaint.
Here are a few outlandish cases that have landed in our courts:
- As recently as on 8 January, a court in Anantpur, Andhra Pradesh, issued a non-bailable warrant against India cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni for allegedly ‘denigrating’ Hindu gods by posing as Lord Vishnu on the cover page of a magazine. (Why don’t they ask Lord Vishnu if he’s really been ‘denigrated’? Actually, Dhoni had not posed; it was a designer’s imagination)
- We constantly witness our Bollywood stars being dragged to one court or the other through the misuse of public interest litigation over either their movies, or some ‘sensitive’ statements they might have made. The list of ‘ridiculous’ PILs against movies and actors is extremely long. However, the one by Hairdressers Association against Shah Rukh Khan’s 2009 film ‘Billoo Barber’ still takes the cake.
- After last year’s controversy over Maggi’s MSG (not to be confused with Baba Gurmeet’s movie by the same name) and led-content, multiple PILs were filed against Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta for featuring in advertisements for the noodle brand. (If the government didn’t have a clue till then, how do they expect actors to test the content of a food product?)
- Even Sachin Tendulkar, the ‘God of Cricket’, wasn’t spared. Last year, a PIL was filed seeking to take back the Bharat Ratna bestowed upon him by the previous government. (Really? Is this how we are supposed to treat a national hero?)
- Add to this list, the two complaints by Delhi Police constables against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for his ‘thulla’ remarks. Come on, give us a break. Whom are we kidding? Nearly every Delhi’ite colloquially refers to the cops as ‘thullas’. It’s most likely that the judges presiding over the cases may be doing so as well in private conversations.
Most of these absurd cases, which consume precious hours and resources of the judiciary, are either politically motivated or a lawyer’s idea to gain instant fame. The moot point is that Indian courts must desist from entertaining such prima facie outlandish cases.
As it is, the courts in India are overburdened with cases of far much importance and socio-political relevance. According to central government data, presented in the Parliament last August, there are over 3.2 crore cases pending with the Supreme Court and various subordinate courts in India.
To be fair on the government, early last year, the Law Ministry had initiated the process of drafting a National Litigation Policy with an intention to bring down pendency of cases in courts. As per the draft, both the Centre and states have decided to withdraw ‘frivolous and ineffective cases’. The Law Ministry has drawn a 10-point litigation policy and shared it with states while asking them to review all pending litigations.
States and central government departments have been asked to set up empowered committees and review all pendency and suggest withdrawal of frivolous cases, particularly those of petty offences and traffic challans.
According to reports, the Law Ministry has also written to chief justices of high courts to advise judges to invoke Section 258 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) which relates to the ‘power to stop proceedings and remove deadwood from judicial system’ where it is necessary.
At a time when the government and judiciary are involved in a process to de-congest the courtrooms, the courts must demonstrate judiciousness and reject frivolous cases.
Cases like the one in which a comedian is booked for precisely doing what he is supposed to do shall not only be rejected, but there should be a provision of penalising the petitioner as well for wasting the time and resources of the court.
(The author is a Gulf-based journalist)