All this has begun with the arrest of writer and historian Amaresh Misra. He was arrested by Uttar Pradesh Police for his alleged provocative posts against BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi on micro blogging site Twitter. He was taken to Lucknow where a case under section 153A of the Indian Penal Code and 66A of IT Act was registered against him. His Twitter account has been suspended. Misra, who had more than 4800 followers on twitter, is said to be very close to Congress. However, in past 10 years, he joined several parties including Assam United Democratic Front and Rashtriya Ulema Council. Misra hails from Allahabad. He got higher education from Allahabad University. He has written several books including ‘War of Civilisations: India AD 1857’. A highly educated person but eccentric, he posts whatsoever comes to his mind to irritate Modi’s supporters. There was always a tussle between him and Modi brigade tweepals over his posts. His tweets were retweeted several times by his followers. Finally, all things are settled as all his accounts are blocked and he was jailed for few days.
After he comes out from the jail, his war of words continued on Facebook but the aggression is missing somewhere.
There was one more arrest in Panaji. An anti-Modi comment on Facebook led to the arrest of a 31-year-old shipbuilding professional. Spreading rumours is a crime in any case. What is said however disagreeable, should be allowed unless it is defamatory and can arouse fear and hatred. Freedom of Speech does not mean you can shout in a crowded hall and defame somebody. It can lead to your arrest. I support Mr. Modi, but I will defend the right of anyone to say what they have to say. Freedom of Speech should never be threatened, even if the speech is untactful. Indians need to be more tolerant and decent. I know many Islamic countries do not have any tolerance, but Hindu religion and India was founded on very different principles. India is a civil society in every sense of the word. However, there are people who think they are more civil than others. One is reminded of a line in George Orwell’s novel “All are equal but some are more equal than others”. Everybody has respect and it should be shown due consideration. Even Modi himself used many objectionable adjectives for other leaders; entire election was based on negativity and gossip mongering. Why at the end only common man has to suffer? Accused Devu Chodankar’s anticipatory bail was rejected by the district and sessions court in North Goa, clearing the ground for his arrest.
In another incident, two summons have already been issued to Devu by the cyber cell. In the run up to the Lok Sabha 2014 poll campaign, Mumbai-based Devu in a post on Goa+, a popular FB group with nearly half a lakh members, had cautioned against Modi coming to power, claiming that a holocaust would follow and also that Christians in Goa would lose their identity. Subsequently, in Goa Speaks, another Facebook group well known for discussions on Goa-related issues, Devu had apologised for his choice of words but not the sum of his argument.
It is his First Information Report (FIR) against the shipbuilder, which has now resulted in the police action. Kane, who regularly defends the BJP and Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar on the social media, in his complaint said Chodandkar had threatened Facebook users against voting for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Lok Sabha polls. Opposition parties had protested the FIR calling it an attempt by the BJP to muzzle criticism. The FIR was under sections 153(A), 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and section 125 of the People’s Representation Act and 66-A of the Information Technology Act. Some of the sections are non-bailable in nature. Civil society activists have jumped into the fray claiming that such heightened police interest in a Facebook post is draconian.
Another five students were detained by the Bangalore Police for allegedly circulating anti-Narendra Modi messages on smartphone messenger WhatsApp. While four of them were released, the fifth accused in the case, Sayed Waqar, who is an MBA student in Bhatkal, Karnataka, was handed over to the Belgaum Police. An FIR has been registered against Waqar by the Khanapur police in Belgaum district. The arrest, which took place in Bangalore, “was based on a complaint lodged in Belgaum district by RTI activist Jayant Mukund Tinaikar,” who said he received an offensive message against the PM. Tinaikar got an image of Modi along with other BJP leaders offending message contain, “The morphed picture showed the final rites of Modi being performed, attended by L K Advani, Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Baba Ramdev, Maneka Gandhi and Varun Gandhi. It had a caption: Na Jeet Paye Jhooton Ka Sardar — Ab Ki Baar Antim Sanskar (A false leader will never win, this time it’s final rites).” Waqar’s arrest comes under Section 505 of the IPC for issuing statements amounting to public mischief with intent to cause fear or alarm and Section 66 of the IT Act for sending offensive messages through communication service. In Waqar’s case his message while it is extremely distasteful, arresting him and raising questions of a possible terror threat without any concrete proof is not only excessive but will also likely not stand in a court of law.
Where Section 66-A is concerned, it reads, “Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device, (a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; (b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device, (c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages.” Given that even words such as “annoyance, inconvenience” are used in this section, there’s no doubt that the former UPA government, which in fact hurriedly added this section to the amended version of the IT Act in 2008, has ensured that the law can be interpreted and enforced in the harshest of ways. The BJP might say that these two cases were registered even before the new government is sworn in, for the cases raise questions about whether the Modi ‘Sarkaar’ will enforce greater alarmism and censorship in the name of increased regulation.
The footsteps of fascism can be heard – this time in the hallowed hallways of the national capital’s courts. A woman who filed an FIR against a man physically threatening her for her anti-Modi Facebook posts, found to her dismay that the Metropolitan Magistrate in the Tis Hazari courts let off the man accused of threatening her safety, while ordering an FIR against her instead! The media’s coverage of this outrageous incident has been, till now, biased and factually misleading.
Looking at these arrests should we say, Freedom of Speech will become history in India?