A joke or laughter from a position of superiority over other people is unworthy of moral support, although it may obtain legal protection
A joke or laughter from a position of superiority over other people considered inferior is unworthy of moral support, although it may obtain legal protection. The philosopher Jason Stanley pointed out that there is a difference in France between mocking the Pope and mocking Prophet Muhammad. “The Pope is the representative of the dominant traditional religion of the majority of French citizens. Prophet Muhammad is the revered figure of an oppressed minority. To mock the Pope is to thumb one’s nose at a genuine authority, an authority of majority. To mock Prophet Muhammad is to add insult to abuse.” This argument by Mr. Stanley is an instance of humour where the power relation is already precarious — embedded in a culture of white, Western supremacy. So the cartoon may not be speaking resistance to power, but may itself be embodied in power, ridiculing the powerless.
To be clear, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Prime Minister Narendra Modi may show their support to France, but the Indian legal framework would most likely never tolerate such cartoons. Be it the Hicklin test in Ranjit Udeshi (1964) or the Community Standards test in Aveek Sarkar (2014), there is little doubt that the images would be held obscene under Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code by the Supreme Court (“…a book, pamphlet, paper, writing, drawing, painting, representation, figure or any other object, shall be deemed to be obscene if it is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect…”). The threat of public disorder is etched deep in our judicial psyche, and the probability that Charlie Hebdo-styled art would receive protections under Article 19 of the Constitution (freedom of expression) is almost close to impossible. Does that mean India is less of a liberal democracy by doing this? The debate is fast becoming a “liberal democracy” versus “religious extremism” rupture, but it is not clear whether liberty has such a clear moral victory over these offended subjects of humour.