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New Delhi: A Delhi University associate professor was arrested late on the night of Friday, May 20, for a social media post on the ‘shivling’ allegedly found inside Varanasi’s Gyanvapi mosque complex.
Hindu College history teacher Ratan Lal was arrested under sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony) and 295A (deliberate act to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion) of the Indian Penal Code, by the Cyber Police Station, North.
An FIR had been lodged against Lal on the night of Tuesday, May 17, based on a complaint filed by a Delhi-based lawyer. In his complaint, advocate Vineet Jindal said Lal had recently shared a “derogatory, inciting and provocating [sic] tweet on the Shivling”.
Screenshots of Lal’s tweet show that he posted a photo of the so-called ‘shivling’ allegedly discovered in the mosque compound and used satire to question the authenticity of the discovery. Lal’s post drew on the phallic symbolism of the lingam – symbolism that is as old as the Hindu religion itself and is the subject of numerous scholarly books – and made a joke about the way the Gyanvapi ‘shivling’ looked.
The Gyanvapi mosque has been brought to the centre of dispute after a Varanasi court allowed a petition by five women claiming that the structure houses Hindu deities and that Hindus should be allowed to pray at the site.
A commission appointed by the court to do a survey and videograph the mosque told the Varanasi court that a ‘shivling’ had been found within the mosque premises, following which Civil Judge (Senior Division) Ravi Kumar Diwakar ordered that the area where it was found be sealed.
The Supreme Court, meanwhile, has instructed that the area where the ‘shivling’ was found should be protected but without impeding the access of Muslim devotees.
A Dalit and human rights activist, Lal is a prominent critic of the government and founder and editor-in-chief of AmbedkarNama.
Defending his post earlier, Lal had said, “In India, if you speak about anything, someone or the other’s sentiment will be hurt. So this is nothing new. I am a historian and have made several observations. As I wrote them down, I have used very guarded language in my post and still this. I will defend myself.”
Lal had alleged that after his social media post went viral, he had been threatened online by many social media users, prompting him to approach the police for security and help. Many such threats continue to remain visible online.
In the aftermath of Lal’s arrest, there were midnight protests at Delhi University, demanding his release.
Mid night protests against the arrest of DU professor Ratan Lal.#ReleaseProfRatanLal pic.twitter.com/2GmJ1xF9s4
— Alishan Jafri (@alishan_jafri) May 20, 2022
On social media, many have criticised the stifling of criticism and demanded the release of the scholar.
Editor of #AmbedkarNama @YouTube Channel. A History Professor @ratanlal72 has been arrested for expressing his freedom of speech without any discourse even though he challenged for open discussion on his views.
This is highly condemnable. We demand #ReleaseDrRatanLal pic.twitter.com/yXS7vHrQ4I
— Obed Manwatkar (@obed_manwatkar) May 20, 2022
the bjp government is afraid of bihari don, prof @ratanlal72 #ReleaseDrRatanLal
— suraj yengde (@surajyengde) May 20, 2022
Professor Ratan Lal has been arrested for his social media post about #GyanvapiMosque and shivling. He teaches history in one of India’s foremost institutions, Hindu College.
Shows you how the Left has hardcoded #Hinduphobia and hatred towards our civilisation into academia. pic.twitter.com/Qm0FU0busp
— Abhijit Majumder (@abhijitmajumder) May 20, 2022
Professor Ratan Lal has been a voice against communal politics. Yet he is arrested for spreading communal enmity, while the hate spreaders roam free! https://t.co/Cqy8i1g5N9
— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) May 21, 2022