B S Raghavan

Intolerance reaching dangerous levels

B.S. RAGHAVAN | Updated on March 12, 2018

No freedom after expression… Shaheen Dadha arrested in Mumbai forexpressing a contrarian view.   -  THE HINDU

Intolerance is peaking to a menacing level in the land of the Buddha, Mahavir, and saints and sages, down to Mahatma Gandhi, who had all expounded the virtue of tolerance, harmony and goodwill as between individuals, communities, faiths and societies. Communal riots and caste conflagrations apart, merely speaking one’s mind and expressing one’s opinion, even in private, has become dangerous.

There have been any number of instances of moral policing, leading to unbearable humiliation and harassment. Instead of attending to their vitally important functions of enforcing law and order, bringing criminals to justice and ensuring the peace, safety and security of the people, the police divert their time and energy to going after couples demonstrating affection on beaches and parks.

In Mumbai, some months ago, a cartoonist was arrested and charged with sedition, an offence carrying life imprisonment, for nothing more than drawing cartoons on the inability of Constitutional provisions to curb corruption. An air passenger was arrested the other day for just clicking on his mobile a picture of Finance Minister P. Chidambaram. Such atrocious examples are fast becoming common.

VANDALISM AT LARGE

Books and paintings have been burnt, libraries vandalised, art galleries attacked and public meetings disrupted over something or the other not to the liking of mobs going on a rampage indulging in large-scale destruction of public property, mayhem and murder on that account.

In short, the so-called fundamental right of freedom of expression does not guarantee freedom after expression. One is in constant dread of the devastating consequences of exchanging even innocuous messages by e-mail, twitter and Facebook. Sending shivers down the spine of every Indian are the latest horrendous experiences of two innocent young girls in their 20s who merely commented in reasonable and moderate language on the extravagant hype, including a call for the bandh of Mumbai, surrounding the passing of Bal Thackeray.

The orthopaedic hospital run by the father of one of the girls was ransacked. They were arrested on charges of committing offences under sections 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and 66A of the Information Technology Act (ITA). They are being subjected to mental torture and the terrible ordeal of a trial. What an outrageous action on the part of the police this is will be evident from a reading of the two sections.

As per section 505(2) IPC, “whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement or report containing rumour or alarming news with intent to create or promote, or which is likely to create or promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.”

CATCHALL CHARACTER

And 66A ITA states: Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device, any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or 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 makes by making use of such computer resource or a communication device, or 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, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.

Note the catchall character of the offences: Almost any opinion or message can be squeezed into them as if they are heinous offences if the police, normally comprising persons uninitiated in legal nuances, so wish. In the face of the draconian punishments, nobody will feel safe unless (s)he completely shuts down his/her desktop and mobile.

These charges against the two poor girls are absolutely untenable and should be dropped. All organs of the civil society must rise like one person to bring that about. It should also condemn the increasing tendency of the governing class to construe any dissent as sedition, and demand the repeal of legal provisions that are converting India into a police state. The media, in particular, should be unremitting in exposing such episodes.

Published on November 20, 2012

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