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