Related Stories

Burning of effigies not a punishable offence: Madras High Court

Published Jul 18, 2015, 12:16 pm IST
Updated Mar 28, 2019, 12:18 pm IST
Bar Council directed to process application of law graduate for enrolment
Representational Image
 Representational Image

Chennai: Pointing out that there is no provision in the IPC, which makes burning of effigies a punishable offence, the Madras high court came to the rescue of a law graduate, whose enrolment as an advocate was withheld since an FIR is pending against him for burning an effigy, and directed the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu to process his application for enrolment without reference to the complaint.

Allowing a petition from A. Santhos Yadav, a Division Bench comprising Justices V. Ramasubramanian and K. Ravichandrabaabu said persons charged with the allegation of burning of effigies of political leaders to advance the cause of a political party could not be said to belong to the category of persons whose entry into the profession should be barred. According to the petitioner, he completed his law degree from the Dr Ambedkar Government Law College, Chennai,  in June 2014 and submitted his application in November 2014 to the Bar Council for enrolment. But, the application was not processed for the reason that an FIR was pending against him for an alleged offence under section 285 of IPC.


The Bench said the Bar Council, in the past, did not have the practice of verifying the antecedents of persons, who apply for enrolment as advocates. But, by an order, Justice N. Kirubakaran directed the council to verify the criminal antecedents of persons, who applied for enrolment. This was due to the fact that there had been an infiltration into this noble profession, of candidates with criminal antecedents, resulting in the erosion of ethical values.

In the case on hand, after enquiry, the police appeared to have filed a final report alleging that on October 4, 2014, the petitioner, a district secretary of a political party, burnt the effigy of Subramanian Swamy at Thirukoilur, to protest against the conviction of the TN Chief Minister and thereby caused hindrance to traffic and to the public, thereby committing an offence under section 285 (Negligent conduct with respect to fire or combustible matter) IPC.

A careful reading of the provision would show that mere burning of an effigy, by itself was not made a punishable offence. In fact, there was not even a reference in the provision to the burning of effigies. As per Section 285 doing anything with fire or any combustible matter any act so rashly or negligently as to endanger human life or to be likely to cause hurt or injury to another person, was made punishable. Therefore, acting rashly or negligently so as to endanger human life or in manner likely to cause hurt or injury, was a sine qua non (an essential condition) for making an act come within the meaning of section 285, the Bench pointed out.

The Bench said, “The only crime alleged to have been committed by the petitioner is the burning of the effigy of a political leader and also in the light of the fact that the act was sought to be brought within the purview of section 285 IPC. In the absence of any specific provision relating to burning of effigies, we are of the considered view that the petitioner cannot be stated to be a person with criminal background”.

Ram Leela,  Guy Fawkes Day have it too

Recalling the history on burning of effigies, the Madras high court has noted that the act had its roots in history, culture as well as religion of several countries throughout the world. Dealing with a casae of a law graduate, whose enrolment was withheld since a case was pending against him for burning an effigy, a Division Bench comprising Justices V. Ramasubramanian and K. Ravichandrabaabu traced the history and said Megha Bhagat who was a disciple of Tulsidas - the author of Ram Charitha Manas-  seemed to have organised Ram Leela shows way back in the early 17th century. Ever since then, Ram Leelas were performed in various parts of the country. On the last day of the show, the effigy of Ravana was burnt signifying the triumph of good over evil.

At about the same time, in the early 17th century, a similar practice appeared to have emerged in England. It was stated that the Catholic dissident Guy Fawkes and 12 of his friends hatched a conspiracy to blow up King James of England during the opening of Parliament on November 5, 1605. But, the assassination attempt was foiled the previous night, when Fawkes was discovered in a cellar below the House of Lords.

Londoners immediately began lighting of bonfire in celebration that the plot had failed. A few months later,  Parliament declared November 5 as a public day of thanksgiving. Ever since then, Guy Fawkes Day also known as Bonfire Night, was celebrated in one form or the other. During the celebrations, the effigies of Guy Fawkes along with that of politicians and celebrities of the current dy were also burnt as a mark of protest. This was why the burning of effigy was not made an offence in England, the Bench added.
  As a consequence, the IPC, drafted by Englishmen in 1860, did not make burning of effigy a punishable offence.

Location: Tamil Nadu