We live in what is often called the age of irreverence or the age of post-modernism where nothing remains sacred. Amidst countless cases of sacrilege and acts of persistent mockery of the sacred all over the globe, there have been numerous instances of retaliation – of murders, violence and verbal abuse, not to mention legal action against the perpetrators of these acts, deemed objectionable. But these retaliations often impinge on individual freedom and do that in the most destructive fashion by smothering the critical spirit. Among all the forms of irreverence, nothing invites more ire than laughter. As always in history, it is the satirist, the comedian and the cartoonist who elicit the most violent forms of retaliation by the humourless.
Recently, when the Indian stand up artist Tanmay Bhat made fun of the two Indian icons Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar, there was a ripple of outrage starting from Maharashtra that took a nasty turn at the national level. As usual, the trolls on Twitter, the rabble rousing politicians in the street began to bay for the comedian’s blood. The question is whether despite deep offence to the worshipers of Mangeshkar and Tendulkar, there is anything the police can do to Bhat by way of legal action, namely are there any grounds for such action at all? This article goes to some depth by way of answering the question in as lucid a manner as possible. Indeed, in our intolerant times, it is important for even the common citizen to know where the limits of their conduct and their free speech lie in the most exact manner. The article may be seen as a news report that can be a good initial guide on the question, a sort of a beginning of a deeper inquiry.