Nov 20, 2012

Why India needs a Superhero: Part II

India Today cartoonist Narsim's take on the Shiv Sena vs free speech tussle.

Although the core idea is quite different from what I wrote here, this is sort of a continuation.

As a child, I remember my teacher once said- India is the largest democracy. He took great pride in the statement. A decade later, I wonder how correct he was.

Let me just tell you something as an example. You probably know this, but let me just tell you anyways. On 17th November, Bal Thackeray passed away. He was a politician and the founder of local party Shiv Sena, and had a big following- well, that is what the funeral pointed to.I would not like to say anything about his life or what he did, as that is not what I want to post on this.

Mumbai came to a stand still due to his death. I agree millions supported him, but what about the million others. With nothing left to do, the young generation took to the social media to express their frustration!

A certain Shaheen Dhada put a status update which reportedly read, “Respect is earned, not given and definitely not forced. Today Mumbai shuts down due to fear and not due to respect.” Renu Srinivasan, a friend of hers who ‘liked’ the comment was also arrested. It is believed that this was posted as well, "People like Thackeray are born and die daily and one should not observe a bandh for that."

She was arrested for the status update, and so was her friend for 'liking' it, on the grounds of 'hurting religious sentiments'. First question- was Bal Thackeray a religious leader? How could criticizing a situation hurt religious sentiments? Am I missing something or does my English need some improvement? They were further ordered by a court to serve 14 days in jail. Come on, where was the criminal offense in that update, and that too worth 14 days in jail? The two of them were granted bail for Rs15000 each the next day!

Wait, this goes on. Her uncle's clinic was ransacked by a mob of some 2000 protestors, rumored to be Shiv Sainiks! Come on, who am I kidding? Both you and I know how much truth there is in that rumor!

The police were swift to arrest the girls within hours of the complaint by a local Shiv Sena leader, but why were arrests made regarding the mob only after this became national news? Is the police reduced to being a puppet now?

The girl was forced to apologize and bring down the post. Here is the picture she has put up in her profile, which speaks of the state of mind she is in now. The other says this activating her Facebook rofile- "No. Not for two months at least. And even if I do visit the website, I will post updates about mundane things only." Is this what you do in a democracy? What would I, or millions of others, as Facebook users, be left to update if these kinds of swift arrests and judgements are given based on posts? Where is this swiftness when there are clear cases like the Guwahati molestation on camera waiting in line? Isn't it illegal, even constitutionally wrong, that such a decision was taken, so swiftly, as baseless allegations?

Although I am not a legal expert, I would like to quote Justice Markandey Katju, a former judge of the supreme court, who, in an open letter to the CM says,
To my mind it is absurd to say that protesting against a bandh hurts religious sentiments. Under Article 19(1)(a) of our Constitution freedom of speech is a guaranteed fundamental right . We are living in a democracy, not a fascist dictatorship. In fact this arrest itself appears to be a criminal act since under sections 341 and 342 it is a crime to wrongfully arrest or wrongfully confine someone who has committed no crime.
Needless to say, he did not receive a proper reply to his mail, which is why he came up with a second post. Read it here.
He ultimately, did get a reply from the CM- a formal looking, very assuring diplomatic reply. What needs to be seen, however, is the action, if at all something, that is taken.
Just when you thought things couldn't get more interesting, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut came up with a statement that the party supports the arrest, adding- "The Facebook comments could have led to a law and order situation." Yeah, right? I wish it would, because, had it been the case, only God knows how many law and order situations I would have sparked!
I wonder how different we are from China. Having banned Facebook, Google, Youtube and what not, it would not be long when India follows the same. Rumors have it that the arrest sparked an SMS campaign in Mumbai where the youth reminded each other to clean up their Facebook profiles! Is that what you expect from a democracy?
In this case, I would like to conclude by quoting Mahatma Gandhi!
Many people, especially ignorant people, want to punish you for speaking the truth, for being correct, for being you. Never apologize for being correct, or for being years ahead of your time. If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.

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