Attorney General’s No to Contempt Plea Against Swara Bhasker is a Victory for Free Speech

Social Commentary

Attorney General’s No to Contempt Plea Against Swara Bhasker is a Victory for Free Speech

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

A week after activist Prashant Bhushan was pulled up and charged with contempt of court over two tweets related to the judiciary, the Attorney General has rejected a second potential contempt case, this time against actor Swara Bhasker.

An advocate had earlier sought to file a contempt plea against Bhasker for statements she made following the Babri Masjid verdict. The advocate described these comments as “derogatory”, “scandalous”, and an “attack on the institution”.

However, Attorney General KK Venugopal, who must give approval before a contempt petition is filed in the Supreme Court, disagreed.

He said the statements were the “perception of the speaker” and didn’t “offer any comment on the Supreme Court itself or say anything that would scandalise or tend to scandalise… the authority of the Supreme Court,” NDTV reported.

The comments in question, which were apparently made at an event in Mumbai, did not constitute criminal contempt, the Attorney General went on to say.

During the event, Bhasker had said, “We are living in a country where the Supreme Court states that the demolition of the Babri Masjid was unlawful and, in the same judgment, rewards the same people who brought down the mosque”.

“We are ruled by a government that doesn’t believe in our Constitution… we are ruled by police forces that do not believe in the Constitution… it seems we are now in a situation where our courts are not sure whether they believe in the Constitution…” she further said, adding that the way forward had been “shown to us” by civil society protests.

The actor was referring to the women-led protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh. Bhasker, who is an alumnus of Jawaharlal Nehru University, has also been an outspoken supporter of its students for years.

The Attorney General has now said that action cannot be taken against her, especially considering that the first half of the statement was factual, as well as the “perception of the speaker”.

Not satisfied with the AG’s response, the petitioner has now approached Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta.

The second statement, Venugopal said, was vague and didn’t refer to any particular court, before quashing the proceedings and earning the praise of none other than activist Prashant Bhushan himself.

Even as the case against Bhasker has been quashed, meanwhile, the Supreme Court has given Bhushan a few days “to reconsider” his two tweets that had prompted the court to file suo motu contempt charges . The court is set to announce its final verdict in that case on Monday.

Bhushan has received immense support from fellow lawyers, journalists and academics. And the AG’s decision on Bhasker has also reinstated our hope in free speech.