Stand-Up Comics & The Imbroglio of Criminal Complaints

By Arundhati Rajput


Vir Das, an Indian Stand-up comic, has yet again become the center of vehement criticism as his monologue: ‘The Story of Two Indias’, has stirred opposing sentiments. In this monologue, the comic portrayed India in a sagacious manner having an undertone of satire. However, several lawyers and political leaders felt that he was attempting to incite disharmony within the nation. Subsequently, an Indian lawyer filed an FIR against the comic. Wherein, the statements made by Das that were under scrutiny in the FIR were:

I come from an India where we worship women during the day and gangrape them at night” and “every time we get information, we are always available to care for the PM but we can’t seem to get any information on PM CARES”.

The complaint, among other things, cited reasons such as the comic’s attempt to “willfully spread inciting and derogatory remarks against India and also the Prime Minister” [“PM”].

This came after the comic had already been involved in a trial due to the controversy spurred by his recent Netflix drama, Hasmukh. The Delhi high court had recognized that satire as an art form would fall under the ambit of the artists’ freedom of speech and expression. Despite the said judgement, Vir Das, amongst many other stand-up comics, continued being embroiled in opposing backlashes by society.

In the pretext of these instances, it becomes necessary to examine the validity of the legal steps that the public is taking against Stand-up comics in India. Hence, in the subsequent piece, the author would analyze the legality of the FIR filed against Das at the pretext of the genuineness of the allegations and on the basis of the law and precedents ascribed to it.

Aspects of the FIR

The complaint filed against Vir Das alleges him to have willfully spread inciting and derogatory statements against India and the PM. It goes on to press charges against him on the grounds of his monologue being the “biggest threat” to the Indian democracy and having the potential to provoke violence and disrupt law and order situations. It is pertinent to note here that the complaint does not specify the sections of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 [“IPC”] and just states that “several sections” of IPC have been attracted. Therefore, for the present analysis, the sections of the IPC having the essence of the above-mentioned charges would be described.

Section 124-A of the IPC penalizes anyone who attempts sedition. The judiciary has laid down the elements that would constitute a seditious speech or writing. In the case of Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar, it was observed that only those words that have a “pernicious tendency or intention” to culminate into a public disorder or disturbance of law-and-order situation fall under the preview of section 124A. The Court also acknowledged that mere dissatisfaction with any policy or step taken by the government can never constitute sedition.

Additionally, in the case of S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram, the Supreme Court had recognized that democracy provides the people with a right to discuss and share their views on various governmental affairs. In Queen-Empress v. Jogendra Chunder Bose, the Court laid down the elements of the section to constitute the premeditation to excite feelings of ill-will, hatred, and contempt against the government.

Recently, a journalist, Vindo Dua, was booked under the section for making derogatory remarks against the government and the PM. The statement was:

When people started returning from Mumbai …. That should have been a big signal for the Government about the effect the complete lockdown in the country can bring about, but no lessons were learnt”.

The Court while quashing the charges against him and relying majorly on the Kedar Nath case held that Dua’s statement should be

 “Termed as expression of disapprobation of actions of the government and were certainly not made with the intent to incite people or showed tendance to create disorder”.

Apart from attracting section 124-A, the complaint filed against Das would also come under the ambit of Section 153-A, an analysis of which is provided in the subsequent section.

The FIR also alleged that the statements made by Das would potentially provoke violence and disrupt law and order situations. This particular allegation would attract section 153A of the IPC, which penalises people who by speech or action portray the tendency to incite violence within a community. In Manzar Sayeed Khan v. State of Maharashtra, it was held by the Hon’ble Court that the presence of intention and mens rea to create feelings of dissatisfaction within a community has to be ascertained. Further in Patricia Mukhim v. State of Meghalaya, an attempt made by the accused to incite violence within a community was deemed as a necessary pre-condition to attract section 153A.

In Ramesh v. Union of India, the Court had held that the standard to determine the impact of a statement under section 153-A should be that of a “reasonable, strong-minded, form and courageous man”.

The statements made by Das that were under scrutiny in the FIR were:

I come from an India where we worship women during the day and gangrape them at night” and “every time we get information, we are always available to care for the PM but we can’t seem to get any information on PM CARES”.

The complainant has accused Das of wilfully spreading inciting and derogatory remarks against India and the PM. It cannot be ascertained, without a doubt that the comic had the intention to do so, something which has to be proven before ascribing either section 124A or 153A. Additionally, the instances of gang rape and the denial of an RTI into the PM CARES fund were recent happenings of import in the country and, therefore, the comic was rightfully within his freedom of speech and expression. The standard of reasonability cannot be met in this particular instance, as the Court has recognized in many cases that mere expression of dissatisfaction with a government policy and expressing views about the recent happenings in India, cannot be termed seditious.

Furthermore, in the case of Ashutosh Dubey v. Netflix, the Delhi High Court had held that

 “a stand-up comedian is known to highlight a particular point and exaggerate the same to the extent that it becomes satire and a comedy. People do not view the comments or jokes made by them as a statement of truth and take them with a pinch of salt.”.

Therefore, such statements made by stand-up comedians’ should not come under the ambit of either section 124A or 153A as they would more often than not have an undertone of satire, something which they can rightfully enunciate. Conclusively, the complaint filed against Das would have no legal validity, if it is pursued in a court of law.


In a case against the Journalist Arnab Goswami, the Supreme Court had observed that –

The manner in which the petitioner has been subjected to numerous FIRs in several States on the basis of identical allegations arising out of the same television show would leave no manner of doubt that the intervention of this Court is necessary to protect the rights of the petitioner as a citizen and as a journalist to fair treatment (guaranteed by Article 14) and the liberty to conduct an independent portrayal of views.”

FIRs against different stand-up comics also need to be scrutinized from the same lens. More often than not, as depicted above, these FIRs do not have a valid legal basis. However, the artists have to bear the brunt of, generally, unfounded allegations. Accordingly, they are trammelled from exercising their birth rights.

In light of the aforementioned analysis, it is evident that the position of the judiciary is lucid. However, an increase in the level of intolerance within the Indian society encourages people to file FIRs and take unnecessary steps against these artists. Therefore, necessary steps to prevent the same is the need of the hour.

As the Court had stipulatedthe unity of this country is an assumption of tolerance and a symbiosis of diversity”, thus it becomes pertinent to act in the same essence.

[The author is a third-year B.A.L.L.B (Hons) student at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata.]

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