When it comes to social media posts critical of the government, parties across state lines are clamping down on free speech.
New Delhi: Days after Pankaj Mishra, a constable in the Central Reserve Police Force in BJP-ruled Assam, was sacked and arrested for putting out a video criticising home minister Rajnath Singh for “not advising” Prime Minister Narendra Modi “in the right direction,” a similar controversy has erupted in the neighbouring state of Bengal ruled by the Trinamool Congress.
Debajit Roy, a wholesale merchant who also runs a customer service centre for a bank, and Anupam Tarafdar – both residents of Balurghat in north Bengal – have been arrested for putting up Facebook posts construed to be a criticism of the traffic restrictions in the town during Durga Puja season.
On September 27, Roy uploaded a post in Bengali which, according to a report in The Telegraph, said, “Bikers… whatever you do, please ensure that you park your bikes in the garage by 4 pm or else you can’t return home. If you are into business… then those who have issued the diktats will arrange your meal….”
In another post, Roy narrated his harrowing experience of having to walk 5 km with his 18-month-old child and pregnant wife because they could not find any toto (battery operated rickshaw) or cycle rickshaw to hire. The social media post went viral and several residents wrote comments, following which the toto drivers held a protest on October 4, The Telegraph reported. The allegation against Roy is that he was trying to provoke popular outrage.
Roy’s wife Priyadarshini told reporters he was summoned to the police station on Thursday evening and made to sit there for “hours and then arrested.”
The police have registered two cases, one of them based on a complaint by toto drivers. The other case has been independently filed by the police. The charges include obstruction of a public servant discharging his public functions assault or criminal force to deter a public servant and making statements conducive to public mischief. Sections of the IT Act dealing with hacking, identity theft and impersonation have been invoked.
These offences carry jail terms ranging from three months to ten years. Produced at the chief judicial magistrate’s court in Balurgat on Friday, Roy and Tarafdar have been sent to a two-day police remand.
The recent arrest brings to mind the arrest of Ambikesh Mahapatra, a professor at Jadavpur University who was taken into custody for circulating a cartoon of chief minister Mamata Banerjee on the internet. Mahapatra, who was also the convenor of Aakranta Aamra (we are assaulted), a human rights organisation, was then planning to contest the elections against the ruling Trinamool Congress candidate.
Reflecting on this trend, the graphic novelist Vishwajyoti Ghosh told The Wire, “As things are unravelling, the powers that be, across party lines, should come out with a self-censorship toolkit – that could be made mandatory like Aadhaar card.”