In an interview with a YouTube Channel, Annamalai had allegedly stated that it was a Christian Missionary organisation which had initially approached the Supreme Court seeking a ban on firecrackers. A video clipping of this interview containing the alleged statements was also posted on the Twitter account of the BJP party, TN’s social media handle.
While refusing to quash a criminal proceeding initiated based on the above statements, Justice Anand Venkatesh observed that Annamalai had turned a petition filed in the interest of the environment into a vehicle to generate communal tension and the statements had a communal fervour to them.
“From the speech of the petitioner (Annamalai), it is unmistakable that he was attempting to portray a calculated attempt made by a Christian Missionary NGO, which is funded internationally, to destroy Hindu culture. It also whips up a communal fervour when he says “we are all running to the Supreme Court to counter this” The public was, therefore, led to believe that Christians are out to finish off Hindu’s and that “we” (in this context Hindus) were running to the Supreme Court to defend it. A petition filed in the interests of the environment was suddenly converted into a vehicle for communal tension,” the court observed.
The high court also added that the case was another reminder for those in positions of power and influence whose words have a wider reach and impact on the citizens of the country.
After the video clippings of the interview were shared on social media, the respondent Piyush, who is an environmentalist gave a complaint to the DGP, Home Secretary, and the Commissioner of Police, Salem feeling that the post could spread hatred between the two communities. He was, however, informed that the interview did not attract any breach of public peace and no prima facie case was made out.
Thereafter, Piyush applied Section 156(3) and 200 of CrPC before the Salem Judicial Magistrate, who, finding that a prima facie case had been made out under Section 153A and Section 505(1)(b) of IPC, issued summons to Annamalai. This summons and the entire proceedings was challenged by Annamalai.
Annamalai, in his defence, claimed that the speeches could at best be taken as a cry in anguish. He submitted that the interview was given as early as in 2022, but the complaint was made after about 400 days and the issue itself and during this period no untoward incident had taken place based on the speech.
Piyush, on the other hand, argued that Annamalai’s speech was a dog whistle, sending a political message in a particular manner to be understood by a particular demographic. He added that necessary state sanction had been taken and a detailed order had been passed by the Magistrate while taking cognizance which showed the application of mind and did not require any interference.
The high court also observed that the psychological impact on a person or a group would also come within the definition of hate speech and thus the courts should not only focus on the prima facie physical harm while dealing with these types of cases. The court further observed that the posts made on Twitter were permanent data and acted like a ticking bomb waiting to have its desired effect at a point of time. The court stated also that Annamalai’s statements had a prima facie psychological impact on the targeted group.
“Hence, 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 psych 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,” the court said.
The court also upheld the order of the Magistrate, stating that it was well-considered order while issuing the summons. Appreciating the order, the court added that it was rare to see such a well-considered order taking cognisance, particularly at the Magistrate level. Thus, finding that the order was well reasoned, the court refused to exercise its powers under Section 482 CrPC to interfere with the prosecution.