CHENNAI: Effigy burning is arguably the most favoured mode of protest in this part of the country. But, is it an offence? No, says the Madras HC.

Pointing out that there is no provision in the Indian Penal Code which makes the burning of effigies a punishable offence, Justice V Ramasubramanian said the Constitution protected the act of burning effigies, if no other mischief was associated with it, referring to former DGP V R Lakshminarayanan’s reported statement.

In the absence of a specific provision in IPC covering effigy-burning, police invariably charge persons who burn effigies only for an offence punishable under Sec 285 which prohibits rash and negligent handling of fire or combustible matter, he said.

He was handling the case of A Santhos Yadav, whose application for enrolment as an advocate was put on hold by the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry in November 2014, as his name figured in a criminal case registered by Thirukoilur police in Villupuram district. For well over a year, it has been the practice of the Bar Council to verify the criminal antecedents, if any, of law graduates who apply for enrolment as advocates. The practice came into being following an order of Justice N Kirubakaran as a precautionary measure to prevent entry of criminals into the legal profession.

Justice Ramasubramanian said Yadav was a district secretary of a political party, and that in October, 2014 he organized an agitation against BJP leader Subramanian Swamy at Thirukoilur and burnt his effigy. A case was registered against him.

The short question is whether the participation in an agitation for a political cause, and the burning of an effigy as part of the agitation, could be taken to be something that will make the offender a person with criminal background so as to disentitle him from getting enrolled as an advocate, asked the judge.

Answering in the negative, and tracing the origins of the effigy-burning protests from the 17th century days of Megha Bhagat of India and Guy Fawkes of England, the judge said: “Persons charg8ed with the allegation of burning effigies of political leaders to advance either the cause of a political party or a political phi8l88osophy, cannot be said to belong to the category of persons whose entry into the profession should be barred. We are of the view that Santhos Yadav cannot be stated to be a person with criminal background.” He asked the Bar Council to enrol Santhos Yadav as an advocate.