Facebook, fear and experience of living in a fascist country

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Updated: Thursday, December 13, 2012, 12:10 [IST]
 
Perils of indulging in free speech

So, you call yourself a free citizen of a democratic country? I call myself a "gagged" and "maimed" denizen of a pseudo-democratic nation. Ok, let me be frank and articulate. I would rather call myself an "ashamed" citizen of a fascist country. Oh! Did I cross my line? Did I hurt the sentiments of any religious or nationalist groups? Even if I have committed the offence, let me speak my mind without any fear.

And, you have all the rights to oppose my statements (comments). Of course, I would request you to remain non-violent and not resort to any vandalism. Or, am I expecting too much? Hopefully, not. [Update: Bal Thackeray effect: Arrested girls delete Facebook a/c]

I don't know, what after-thoughts were hitting 21-year-old Maharashtra woman Shaheen Dhada or her friend Rini Srinivasan? Probably, not even in their worst of nightmares they would have imagined being arrested by police for a comment on Facebook. The horror does not end here. Miscreants vandalised the orthopaedic hospital owned by Shaheen's uncle Dr Abdul Dhada.

So what happened to our constitutional right of "freedom of expression"? Or, is it a prerogative only meant for a bunch of powerful politicians and billionaires? Perhaps, that is why when politicians make outrageous speeches during election rallies, provoking mob violence, nobody dares to stop them. And, if a so called "aam aadmi" dares to open his/her mouth, he/she would be arrested and choked to silence. That is what Mumbai cops attempted to do to Shaheen and Rini. And the crime of both the youngsters were that Shaheen honestly and freely expressed herself by making a comment on her Facebook page and Rini supported Shaheen's view.

Shaheen's Facebook comment reads like this, "Everyday thousands of people die. But still the world moves on. Just due to one politician dead. A natural death. Every one just goes crazy...When was the last time did any one show some respect or even 2 minutes silence for shahid Bhagatsingh, Azad, Sukhdev, or any of the people because of whom we r free living Indians. Respect is earned, not given. N definitely not forced...."

Shaheen's comment came in the wake of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray's death, which almost led to the closure of Mumbai, a city which is known to work round the clock.

Are the above lines written by Shaheen in any way provocative or hurting the so called "religious" sentiments of any community? As I read those lines again and again, all I could understand was that Shaheen wrote what many fear to even utter. And, for that cops in Palghar, located 87km north of Mumbai, detained Shaheen and her friend Rini late at night on Sunday, Nov 18 and later arrested them on Monday morning. The police cited that Shaheen and Rini were arrested for "hurting religious sentiments". However, later on the charge against both women were lessened and the two were granted bail on surety of Rs 15,000 each.

The irony was that no "Sainik" was initially arrested for vandalising a clinic of Shaheen's uncle. However, after countrywide protest demanding arrest of the miscreants, police on Tuesday arrested nine people from Palghar. The nine were arrested for vandalising the clinic. It is unclear if those arrested are Shiv Sainiks.

In support of Shaheen and Rini, former Supreme Court judge and Press Council chairman Justice Markandey Katju spoke out on Monday. He wrote two emails of protest within hours of each other on Monday to the Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan strongly condemning the arrest of two women's. Katju wrote,"To my mind it is absurd to say that protesting against a bandh hurts religious sentiments. Under Article 19(1)(a) of our Constitution, freedom of speech is a guaranteed fundamental right. We are living in a democracy, not a fascist dictatorship. In fact, this arrest itself appears to be a criminal act since under sections 341 and 342 it is a crime to wrongfully arrest or wrongfully confine someone who has committed no crime."

Katju might have come out in support of the women, but most of the well-known personalities from Bollywood, sports and other fields, who are frequent on social-networking sites have decided to maintain silence on the issue. Is this silence or sign of fear? Otherwise, why the tech-savvy "stars" of the country are mum on the issue.

However, Shiv Sena, known for their "violent style" of politics, feels that the arrest of women, who posted a comment against their "god", is justified.

Shiv Sena's Thane rural chief has defended the police action of arresting the duo for Facebook post on late Shiv Sena founder. He has also said any comments against Bal Thackeray will not be tolerated. "Balasaheb Thackeray is our God. We will not tolerate any offensive comments against him. No Shiv Sainik and no Marathi Manoos will remain silent. The police knows who was behind the Facebook comment. The arrest is justified," Rural District Head, Shiv Sena, Thane, Prabhakar Raul, said.

As Shiv Sena has justified the arrest, the entire country should toe the party line or face the music? Or, we need to raise our voice against such unjustified and intimidating ways of police and politicians? Otherwise, everyday one Aseem Trivedi or Shaheen Dhada would be gagged and thrown behind the bars. If this is not nauseating enough, wonder if we are preparing ourselves to be ruled by Taliban style political parties or groups? 


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