Contempt Proceedings To Begin Against Artist For Criticising Top Court

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On Tuesday, Attorney General KK Venugopal, gave his consent to begin contempt proceedings against comic artist Rachita Taneja, the creator of webcomic ‘Sanitary Panels’.

Nod From The Supreme Court Comes At A Law Student’s Request

The charge against Taneja relates to two tweets she made regarding the Supreme Court granting bail to Arnab Goswami, Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV, in an abetment to suicide case.

According to the report by Bar and Bench, the request to initiate contempt proceedings against Taneja were made by a law student, Aditya Kashyap.

In his letter Kashyap writes that Taneja’s  illustration “scandalizes the Hon’ble Supreme Court, insinuates and attributes motives behind judgments of the Court. The line between humour and contempt of the Court has also been clearly violated.”

Attorney General Venugopal has responded to the letter saying Taneja’s comics were an “audacious assault and insult to the institution”. He informed the law student that he is satisfied that the tweets implicate that the “Supreme Court is biased towards the ruling party” and thereby grants his consent to initiate contempt proceedings.

Taneja Uses Her Webcomic To Make Uncensored Observations On Politics And Society

Taneja refused to shy away from using her illustrations to make political and social observations. Her webcomics Sanitary Panels, then, has unsurprisingly consistently received backlash and criticism.

“Sanitary Panels is a feminist webcomic that comments on culture, society and politics,” Taneja says.

From humorous observations, mental health issues, and controversial current affairs, she uses her webcomic to express herself and raise awareness on a diverse range of subjects.

While she’s been criticised and her posts sometimes taken down by the social media platforms without explanation, this is the first time legal action is being taken against Taneja’s stick figures.  

Indian Artists Are Standing In Solidarity With Taneja

There has been an outpouring of support for Taneja shown by fellow Indian artists on social media.

Cartoonist and illustrator Rohan Chakravarty expressed his solidarity with Taneja and urged others to extend their support by contributing to her Patreon – a platform that helps creators and artists earn through subscription services. “For those who wish to extend support to Rachita, Sanitary Panels is on Patreon, and I’d guess that she’d need it more than ever right now,” he points out.

Does Mocking The Court Call For Legal Action?

This isn’t the first time the judiciary has punished individuals who have criticised it.

As recently as a few weeks ago, the Attorney General granted yet another law student permission to initiate contempt proceedings against comedian Kunal Kamra, for similar charges of criticising the court. In the past, Arundhati Roy challenging contempt charges against her led to one-day imprisonment and a fine of Rs 2000. Later, Prashant Bhushan’s tweet about how the Supreme Court is destroying Indian democracy led to a fine of Rs 1.

Many have questioned the wave of contempt proceedings the judiciary has okayed in recent years, when there are more pressing matters at hand. “In a country where 69% of the prison population is undertrials, one would think the Attorney-General’s first and foremost duty is to reduce this figure and second duty is to speed up trials. It would be a very sad day for our Republic if [Kamra] is found guilty and sentenced to serve time, howsoever brief.” a retired High Court Judge, Kamaljit Singh Garewal, wrote for India Legal Live during the Kunal Kamra case.

Radhika Jhalani, an advocate and volunteer legal counsel with the Software Freedom Law Centre told The Swaddle that while the judiciary has the right to exercise the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 in the face of unfair criticism, like unfounded accusations of a judge being corrupt, online mocking of judicial decisions does not fall in the same category. The act needs to be used sparingly, according to her, like is done in most progressive democracies today.

“I don’t think people in public institutions should be too sensitive to public criticism. It doesn’t set a good precedent. As a democracy, we should be open and accepting of dissent and criticism,” she tells The Swaddle.

Today, when putting out content on social media is the most accessible, and widely used form of expressing oneself, the freedom to do so – be it verbal or through art, to praise or criticise – is crucial. 

If you too wish to support Taneja and other artists who choose to assert their right to freedom of speech and expression through art, you can visit Patreon

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Sanjana writes far too little to call herself a writer and reads far too much pop-culture fiction to call herself a reader. She once received a Special Mention for the Best Young Critic Award by MAMI, and refuses to stop talking about it. Her love for films, art, and theatre runs deep and is only borderline pretentious. She detests writing in third person but can be convinced to engage in it occasionally.

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