The Madras High Court, on Thursday, February 8 refused to quash the criminal proceedings against Tamil Nadu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president K Annamalai in a hate speech case. Justice N Anand Venkatesh, while passing the order, also pulled up the BJP leader for his comments and said that the case “serves as a reminder to those in positions of power” that their words and deeds have a wider reach and greater impact on the public.
The court was hearing a petition filed by Annamalai seeking to quash the criminal proceedings initiated against him over an interview he gave to a YouTube channel. In the 44-minute-long interview to ‘Pesu Thamizha Pesu’ channel on October 22, 2022, Annamalai allegedly stated that the first petition seeking a ban on bursting firecrackers was filed by a Christian missionary NGO. The video clip of his speech was also circulated on social media.
Based on the video, environmentalist V Piyush filed a police complaint against Annamalai, which was not taken up citing that it did not attract any breach of public peace. Following this, Piyush filed a petition at a lower court in Salem. The court prima facie found that Annamalai committed offences under sections 153A and 505(1)(b) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and issued summons to initiate criminal proceedings. It was against this case that Annamalai approached the HC.
The HC observed that the statements made by Annamalai disclose a ‘divisive intent’ in projecting that a Christian NGO was acting against Hindu culture. “The intent can be gathered from the fact that the statements were made two days before the Diwali festival. The intent can also be gathered from the fact that this particular extract of the interview was culled out from the main interview and shared on the Twitter handle of his party,” the court noted.
Further, observing that a petition filed in the interests of the environment was suddenly converted into a vehicle for communal tension by Annamalai, the judge said, “It is clear… that there exists a prima facie intent to create hatred towards a particular religion. These statements were made by a person of stature, whose words have a lot of impact on the masses and as a result, they, prima facie, have a psychological impact on the targeted group.”
Taking into account the argument of Annamalai’s counsel that there has been no violence or disturbance to public order even 400 days after the interview, the court said that the interview was available online and could be used anytime. “The psychological impact of a statement made by a popular leader must not be merely confined by testing it only to immediate physical harm and it is the duty of the court to see if it has caused a silent harm in the psyche of the targeted group, which, at a later point of time, will have their desired effect in terms of violence or even resulting in genocide,” Justice Venkatesh observed.