Storm in a Tea cup – India looks ridiculous in its over-the-top reaction to an article by a Sri Lankan writer
Posted on August 6th, 2014

By Supun Mudalige

In today’s highly monitored international scene a country, big or small, is judged by the way it conducts itself. To make a mountain out of a molehill or create a storm in a tea cup i.e. getting very angry orworried about something that is not really that important would reveal a state of mind that reflects poorly either on the individual or even a Government of a country.  The Government of India is now unfortunately placed in such a situation, partly due to circumstances beyond its control.  

India will look back and regret in hindsight for the manner in which a very unimportant matter has been handled and allowed to blow out of proportion leading to the international community and even India’s neighbors doubting how well India can ever handle a world power status. An article appearing on the Sri Lankan Defense website with a satirical graphic is what has caused the uproar mostly confined to the State of Tamil Nadu. Let it be reminded that the State in question is well-known for placing massive hoardings degrading even world leaders and its response to the said article has been to virtually place the entire country in bad light.

An ‘unqualified‘ apology from the Govt. of Sri Lanka

What a ridiculous position the public authorities in India put themselves in without immediately putting to an end the issue after receiving an ‘unqualified’ apology from the Sri Lankan Government. Should they allow the very tantrums that the article in question by Shenali D. Waduge was accusing the State Chief Minister of? Has anyone making the accusations even read a line in the article? There are enough of satirical political commentaries all round the world, there are thousands of cartoons drawn on world leaders. Do they cause an entire State to go bonkers, stone airline offices, burn national flags, burn down effigies of the President of a neighboring country, deport cricket teams comprising school children from friendly countries, and people who have not read or seen the article taking sleeping tablets or even contemplate sacrificing their lives in protest for a wholly undeserving cause? What kind of baloney and hot air are some people in India allowing to generate? 

Tail wagging the dog

The previous Government of India led by Manmohan Singh of the Congress Party, which was routed at the last General Elections, allowed Tamilnadu to have the last word in some of its foreign policy making in a typical case of the tail wagging the dog. It would be disastrous for India if that unintelligent line of the previous Indian Govt. is continued to be followed by the new Govt. 

What an unnecessary and trivial issue this has been. The article has nothing that India or Tamil Nadu can really complain about. The heading is compared to any heading used in a political satire. The graphic is the only contentious area but there are scores of cartoons appearing on world leaders in far worse positions and conditions. The Sri Lankan Government was gracious enough to make a quick apology and remove the graphic including the article though there was no requirement to do so. Yet, leaving aside the Tamil Nadu frolics the Indian Foreign Ministry officials too have been using strong statements making the situation worse and pumping oxygen to Tamil Nadu politicos clutching at straws given their situation of being unable to influence the Central Government decisions after the Modi victory.

De minimis non curat lex

We can draw an analogy from the administration of the law in this situation. There is a common law principle drawn from the Roman law which reads in latin as ‘De minimis non curat lex’ whereby judges will not sit in judgment of extremely minor transgressions of the law.

It has been restated as: the law does not concern itself with trifles because it brings the entire judicial system into disrepute. 

In one case People v Durham, Justice Robert Steigmann of the Appellate Court of Illinois had before him Daniel Durham who did not like a traffic citation he had received and seeking $5 compensation. 

The Judge said:

“Litigation like this brings the judicial system into disrepute. Rational citizens (not connected to the law) would deem this appeal an utter waste of time and resources for all concerned. The time and money already spent bringing this appeal amounts to squandered resources. We will not be part of further squandering.

“The maxim de minimis non curat lex retains force in Illinois and is wholly applicable in this case. This maxim applies even to constitutional claims, and its function is to place outside the scope of legal relief the sorts of injuries that are so small that they must be accepted as the price of living in society rather than made a federal case out of “

The rationale behind the legal principle of ‘‘De minimis non curat lex’ is also applicable in the areas of governance. The high and mighty of the land and in positions of power should not concern themselves with trifles because it brings the entire system of governance and conduct of international relations into shame.  

Being subject to criticism, ridicule, cynicism, satire, sarcasm, parody, invective, mockery, lampoon, caricature and the like is the price of engagement in politics in a modern democratic society. 

Both India and Sri Lanka have strong claims to having excellent credentials and commitment to democracy and free speech. Let us keep it that way without engaging in morally indefensible witch hunts of journalists and political cartoonists.

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