Why Whistleblower-YouTuber ‘Savukku’ Shankar was sentenced to 6 months jail

The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court held him guilty of criminal contempt as he had ‘shown no remorse’ despite similar contempt cases against him.
Savukku Shankar in front of Madurai Bench of Madras High Court
Savukku Shankar in front of Madurai Bench of Madras High Court
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The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court sentenced whistleblower and former Tamil Nadu Vigilance Department official ‘Savukku’ Shankar, to six months in jail for remarks against the judiciary. The court held him guilty of criminal contempt saying that Shankar had ‘shown no remorse’ despite a history of similar contempt cases. The court sent Shankar to six months of simple imprisonment. He shall be lodged in Central Prison in Madurai.

“The conduct of the contemnor (Shankar) deserves to be noted. Nowhere he expressed his regret or remorse. He did not offer any apology at all. On the other hand, he asserted that he was justified in making the charged statements. A reading of the charged statements would lead anyone to the conclusion that they are likely to lower the prestige and dignity of courts and judges. We, therefore, hold that the contemnor is guilty of criminal contempt,” Justice GR Swaminathan and Justice B Pugalendhi said in the order pronounced on Thursday, September 15.

“It is criminal contempt of the highest degree to portray the entire institution of higher judiciary as corrupt,” the bench held, pointing out that he made adverse allegations against district judges as well as judges of the Supreme Court as well. 

The case pertains to six separate comments made by Shankar in interviews he had given to two YouTube channels and in an article he had written and published on the website savukkuonline.com. 

Shankar, the court said, referring to an interview he had given a YouTube channel called Red Pix, had alleged that the Personal Security Officer (PSO) system was being abused by the judges. Also, in one of his articles, Shankar had written,  “Except for two or three judges of the Madras High Court, I cannot call any of them honest. They act as if the court is their ancestral property." The court refers to two more quotes from the same article as well. In another remark Shankar has said that “More honesty can be expected from fruit vendors who ply their wares by the roadside than from the judges.” 

In an interview to the YouTube channel News Sense, Shankar alleged: “These judges do not work on behalf of the people. They work for luxuries such as a car and for the benefit of those with money, so why should the general public respect them? You do not give justice to us. You give justice only for the politician, for the rich and powerful.”

The bench also said that Shankar has admitted that he made all the statements that prompted the contempt case against him. “It does not require a forensic mind to conclude that they (his remarks) are ex-facie scandalous. They denigrate and deride the institution of judiciary. The legal maxim “res ipsa loquitor” (the thing speaks for itself) can be analogically applied,” the bench said. 

The bench added that Shankar is “well within his rights to highlight specific instances of corruption” but “they must be backed by materials. He cannot tar the entire institution with a single brush. That would be crossing the lakshman rekha by a long shot.” 

The bench noted that Shankar is a well known YouTuber, is very active on social media, and thus has the “ready ear of thousands of persons,” and so “his words have the effect of lowering the dignity and prestige of this institution.”

The court also addressed Shankar’s argument that Justice GR Swaminathan cannot be a part of the bench hearing the contempt case, as he was the one who initiated the proceedings and could have been a part of the bench. “When the Hon'ble Chief Justice as the Master of the Roster had directed that this Bench should deal with the case of criminal contempt against the contemnor herein, it is the bounden duty of this Bench to do so. Otherwise, it will amount to abdication of judicial duty. That apart, the charges framed against him do not pertain to Justice GR Swaminathan in his individual capacity. It is therefore incorrect to suggest that one of us is being a Judge of his own cause,” the court said. 

The court, in its order, asked the Union government to ensure that the offending interviews and articles where Shankar made the allegations, are taken down. 

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