Cutting cake depicting national flag no offence: Madras HC
Chennai: Citing the Rig Veda, Rabindranath Tagore, Nani Palkhivala, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Madras high court on Monday came down hard on what it termed “hyper and surfeit” nationalism, while ruling that cutting a cake in the form of the Indian map in tricolour and eating it do not amount to an offence under the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act.
A single judge bench of justice N Anand Venkatesh quashed a magistrate’s direction to Coimbatore police to register a case against those who indulged in the act, saying that “symbolisation of national pride is not synonymous with patriotism, just like how cutting a cake is not unpatriotic”. It was hearing the state’s appeal against the magistrate’s order.
The case refers to a 2013 public party on Christmas Day in Coimbatore district. The celebrations featured a large cake, the icing on which depicted a tricoloured outline of India’s map with the Ashoka Chakra in the middle. This cake was cut, distributed, and consumed by at least 2,500 people including around 1,000 children.
According to the complainant, D Senthilkumar, of the Hindu Public Party, the celebrations were also attended by the Coimbatore district collector, the deputy police commissioner, various religious leaders, and members of several NGOs. The complainant’s grievance was that the representation of the Indian national flag on the cake, and the cutting of the same, amounted to an offence under Section 2 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971. Section 2 penalises insults to the Indian flag and the Constitution of India with imprisonment up to three years or a fine or both.
“Patriotism is not determined by a gross physical act. The intention behind the act will be the true test,” the court observed. The judge said that, in the case in question, it was important to consider the feeling with which the participants left the function. “Will they be feeling great pride in belonging to this great nation, or would the pride of India have come down on the mere cutting of a cake during the celebration? Without any hesitation, this court can hold that the participants would have felt only the former.”
The high court compared a hypothetical example of how after Independence Day or Republic Day celebrations, people who wear flags discard them. “If persons are allowed to give such broad meaning to the word ‘insult’, many will become very uncomfortable and hesitant to handle the national flag.”
The Flag Code, 2002, does prescribe ways to destroy flags in private and in a respectful manner, the court said, and while it should be followed by every citizen, not all may be aware of it. Hence, not doing so will not make people liable for prosecution, the judge said.
The verdict comes at a time when an increasing number of petitions are been filed in different courts over perceived or alleged insults to national symbols.
The court drew from the Rig Veda on the Indian ethos of tolerance and recalled Rabindranath Tagore’s remark, “Patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds, and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live.”
To underscore its judgment, the court cited late jurist N A Palkhivala and American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words and said that “a patriot is not one who only raises the flag, symbolises his national pride and wear it on his sleeve, but also, a person who bats for good governance”.
“A wayfarer, for the sake of publicity, should not be allowed to expose people to criminal prosecution for some innocuous acts,” the judge observed.