New Delhi: The Kafkaesque ordeal of Abhijit Iyer-Mitra shows no signs of ending with the analyst and commentator finding himself jailed for 14 days for a year-old tweet in rasgullas hours after he apologised to the Odisha assembly for a more recent tweet and short video that the state’s legislators and police deemed as offensive and inflammatory.
On Tuesday, Iyer-Mitra appeared before a committee of the state assembly and tendered an unconditional apology for his “anti-Odisha” remarks, after which he was arrested by police.
As soon as he stepped out of the assembly, Iyer-Mitra was picked up and sent to judicial custody for allegedly hurting the religious sentiments of the people and making derogatory remarks against the state.
Bitterly disappointed. @Iyervval bail rejected. Remanded to 14 day judicial custody. Met with him just now. Those of you who have had the pleasure of knowing him will know he is his usual self despite all the surrounding adversity and – for want of a better word – absurdity.
— Nikhil Mehra (@TweetinderKaul) October 23, 2018
Iyer-Mitra’s lawyer Nikhil Mehra told The Wire that his client has been arrested in a case that related to a conversation on Twitter about the origin of the celebrated Indian sweet, the rasogolla, more than a year ago when the argument between Odisha and Bengal about provenance provided much mirth on social media.
Shocking!!!! Please mass report this troll spreading malicious fake news clearly intended to incite communal disturbances!!! Everyone knows of course there is no such thing as Odisha!!! It is merely southern Bengal. #OdishaIsBengal #RoshogollaDibosh Happy Roshogolla Day to all https://t.co/hSo3dKtbQo
— Abhijit Iyer-Mitra (@Iyervval) July 25, 2018
Iyer-Mitra was charged under various sections of the IPC on the basis of an FIR filed at the Saheed Nagar police station, Bhubaneswar ACP (Zone-5) Kishore Mund told PTI. A complaint was lodged against Iyer-Mitra by one Manoranjan Mohanty on September 20 for allegedly hurting the religious sentiments of the people of Odisha.
Just heard that Abhijit Iyer Mitra @Iyervval has been sent to 14 days judicial custody after he was arrested by Police today. His bail plea has been rejected by alocal court. He had earlier apologized to the Odisha Assembly committee. Here is his advocate Nikhil Mehra. pic.twitter.com/KE17T8BPCX
— Aditya Raj Kaul (@AdityaRajKaul) October 23, 2018
Chairman of the house committee Narasingha Mishra, who is also the leader of opposition in the Odisha assembly, told reporters that, “Abhijit Iyer-Mitra confessed to the allegations against him and sought an unconditional apology for his stupidity. He has been directed to depose before the committee and submit an affidavit in this regard.”
He further said, “The committee will decide whether to accept his apology or not after examining his affidavit. Accordingly, the committee will then recommend the House to take action against him if necessary.” Mishra said Iyer-Mitra has been asked to reappear before the house committee on November 2.
Earlier on September 20, Odisha assembly Speaker P K Amat had set up a house committee to probe the alleged derogatory remarks against the state, its culture and the lawmakers made by Iyer-Mitra. Though the committee had earlier summoned Iyer-Mitra to appear before it on October 11, he failed to turn up. A notice was then sent to him for appearance before the committee on October 23.
Odisha 9: my special message to you from the Konark temple expressing my utter disgust at this monumental conspiracy against the Hindu Civilisation pic.twitter.com/wJeqZPHRDk
— Abhijit Iyer-Mitra (@Iyervval) September 16, 2018
The outcry over his comments started on September 15 when the analyst posted a video on social media of himself standing in front of some friezes making the following comment in Hindi, tongue firmly in cheek:
“Bhaiyon aur behanon. I am in Odisha’s famous Konark Temple. This is not a temple but a humple where people are humping. See these sculptures… Women with women, men with animals. Can this be a holy place? Not al all. This is a conspiracy against Hindus by Muslims who want to keep us down! I want to only say Jai Sriram! In our new Ram Temple, such obscene sculptures will not be there!”
The English translation does not capture the satirical nature of the Hindi comment, which is evident in the video, which ends with some off camera laughter.
But soon after, in a subsequent tweet he clarified that it was meant to be a joke. “Jokes aside this temple is just mind-blowing. The sculptures are exquisite & it has a great sense of symmetry & gravitas.”
Odisha 10: Jokes aside this temple is just mindblowing. The sculptures are exquisite & and it has a great sense of symmetry & gravitas pic.twitter.com/275I4D5Yw5
— Abhijit Iyer-Mitra (@Iyervval) September 16, 2018
Iyer-Mitra was accompanying former BJD leader Baijayant Panda and another journalist, Aarti Tikoo Singh, in a chopper when he shot the video. Panda, who is a licensed helicopter pilot, had taken the two for a flight over the Sun Temple, the Jagannath Temple, Puri and Chilika Lake.
Soon after he posted the video, BJD and Congress MLAs created an uproar, claiming that he had hurt the pride and religious sentiments of Odisha, and demanded action against him. Their campaign spilled over to an assembly discussion and later led to his arrest. Panda’s chopper was also seized by the Odisha police for allegedly flying over the Chilika Lake, an eco-sensitive zone.
Two FIRs were registered against him at the Konark police station in Puri district and Saheed Nagar police station in Khurda district under different sections of the IPC.
“Had Iyer-Mitra not flown with Panda in his chopper, then it’s possible that no one would have noticed. Though his comments are idiotic, it’s possible that he may have been caught in the political crossfire,” said Bhubaneswar-based analyst Rabi Das told the Hindustan Times.
“Given the fact that Panda is now opposed to both the BJD and the Congress, it appears Abhijit became the fall guy for accompanying Panda and making those remarks,” a senior journalist in Bhubaneswar had told The Wire, on the condition of anonymity. He said the claim that Iyer-Mitra’s comment hurt religious sentiment seems implausible as the Sun Temple no longer even functions as a temple. “It is only a tourist site. No worship happens there. Both Konark and Khajuraho depict Indian sexuality from the ancient past. Everyone knows that. To make it a political issue, and then a police case, is stretching the issue a little too far,” he added.
The fact that BJD and Congress MLAs both went after Iyer-Mitra suggests wider political factors may be at play. Joint dharnas were also also staged by the Congress and BJD inside the premises of the assembly.
Iyer-Mitra then moved the Supreme Court on October 4 seeking extension of his bail tenure but the plea was dismissed.
With additional inputs from PTI.