Guwahati: A little before midnight on August 5, Anindya Sen, an assistant professor of English at Assam University in Silchar posted a joke on Facebook, on the deity Ram and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The day marked the occasion of the bhoomi pujan of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. By August 8, an FIR had been registered against Sen, based on a complaint filed by an ABVP functionary.
Rohit Chanda, the ABVP leader who lodged the complaint against Sen for ‘denigrating Hindu god Ram’ and ‘hurting religious sentiments’ had, last year, been one of the original complainants against physics lecturer Souradeep Sengupta, over a Facebook by the latter. Sengupta had received bail after having been jailed for three days over the complaint that alleged that he had abused “Sanatan Dharma as a whole.”
A portion of the FIR against Sen, dated August 8, states, “In this pandemic situation when the whole nation celebrated the Bhoomi Pujan peacefully, we think by making such remarks, a professor who has a decent number of followers among university and as well as in the society is trying to incite communal disturbance and provoking society for religious riot (sic).“
Chanda asked the Silchar Sadar Police Thana to take “strict action for such hate-mongering.”
Sen has not taken down the post yet. The comment section is flooded with abuse and vicious trolling.
One Facebook user warned him “that the cyber cell department will arrest him.”
A meme with the photo of Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli was also directed at Sen. The connection was ostensibly Ram, considering that Oli too had made references to Ram in a speech recently.
“I wrote that joke. And I posted it on Facebook. There were no unparliamentary words or any abusive language involved,” said Sen.
“It is meant to show how Ram abandoned his wife. There are so many texts in different languages and even Ramayana was written in different languages across different regions. There have been many criticisms of Ram for abandoning his wife. However, the abuses have spilled over to my Facebook Messenger service. My family is worried about my safety,” said Sen, who has been working at Assam University for nine years.
When asked if he has received support from higher officials of the university, he said, “Someone has offered me support but that was only on a personal basis and not an official one.”
Sen said he is saddened that online posts invoke such a reaction.
A Barak Valley-based online news portal Barak Bulletin reported on August 8 that the copy of the FIR – filed under sections 295 A, 294 and 501 – against Sen also mentions that ‘he continuously posts such abusive posts defaming Hindu dharma and also abuses constitutional posts like Prime Minister and Home Minister of the country.’
A student of Assam University told The Wire that Sen is a popular teacher of the university and the abuse he has had to face is indicative of intended harassment of teachers. “The irony is they are accusing him of committing cybercrime whereas they are using abusive and unparliamentary words to attack him,” the student, who requested anonymity said.
The student also said that rightwing outfits have had the run of students’ unions recently, leading to increased intolerance. “A Muslim student from our university was beaten outside our campus for his activism. Hyper nationalism and religious jingoism have been common both inside our campus and outside of it,” the student added.
In March, 2020, after Souradeep Sengupta got bail, ABVP leader Chanda had told The Wire that he held strong reservations against a teacher criticising government figureheads.