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India: The IT law with its sinister section 66A is used time and again to ’straighten’ the ’rebellious’ online community

21 November 2012

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The Times of India

Shame on us

[by] Monobina Gupta

20 November 2012, 06:08 PM IST

In the name of being the largest democracy we seem to be getting away with a great deal of bullying and terrorizing of our citizens. Attacks on the online community are growing. Political masters, the security agencies at their beck and call, are basking in a culture of impunity. The latest arrests of two young girls for their critical comments on the Mumbai shutdown following Bal Thackeray’s death, is yet another example of this trend. Shaheen Dhada’s comments on Bal Thackeray, ’liked’ by her friend Rini Srinivasan, landed both of them in prison. The girls were released on bail following a hue and cry in the media. But that they could be dragged to prison on such a non-issue is in itself a scary reminder of the future; of a fair measure of our vulnerability in the face of the wrath of the powers that are unable to whiplash social media into submission but want to control it nonetheless. One wonders once again about the differences, if any, between a multi-party democracy like India, and a one-party totalitarian Communist state like China. In both countries the social media is under attack, bloggers are hauled over hot coals, punished with imprisonment and legal cases. In India the political class has taken to a wink-wink, nudge-nudge game. Let the police make the arrests, its a good way of teaching the ’culprits’ not to be irreverent towards the high and mighty. The IT law with its sinister section 66A is used time and again to ’straighten’ the ’rebellious’ online community. It’s time to scrap that offending section.

Following the arrest, there’s always an ’afterwards’ when the buck can be blithely shifted to the police. And that’s exactly what the Shiv Sena has tried to do this time. The Shiv Sena leaders have tried to shift the onus of the arrests of the two girls on to the police. Interestingly though, they have refused to condemn the arrests, shooting off inane statements instead. The script was pretty much the same in several incidents in the recent past when Congress governments at the center and in the states too were guilty of persecuting the social media.

But let’s get things in perspective for this latest incident, which is also a reminder of what the Shiv Sena stands for. It wasn’t just the arrest. Angered by Shaheen’s post Shiv Sainiks vandalized a hospital run by her uncle, dragging patients out of beds and destroying the equipment. Strangely, the police, which had been so prompt in arresting the two girls, are yet to arrest any of the vandals. And what about the Shiv Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray, whose death touched off the incidents?

The last couple of days have been quite a nightmare. First, the seemingly endless 24x7 telecast of Bal Thackeray’s health bulletins and then the minute-by-minute scan of his funeral procession. Second, the semi-choked voices of some commentators, their contrived imaging of a ’benign’ and popular Thackeray, who, incidentally, worshipped and emulated Hitler. He was the ’great dictator’ at whose bidding Shiv Sainiks thrashed lovers on Valentines Day, chased North Indian students who landed in Bombay to take the railways examination, vandalized cinema halls, media offices and sets of film shootings. This was the man behind the mass killings during the riots in Bombay in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition; the man, who, according to those who were chronicling the event of his death, spoke the ’truth and nothing but the truth’.

This is the legacy left by Bal Thackeray, a legacy that his followers intend to stay true to, as evident from yesterday’s events.


The above article from The Times of India is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use.