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'We Are Stuck With A Nut'

The cartoon that apparently led to the arrest of a Jadavpur University professor (52) along with his 72-year old neighbour, on charges under IT Rules of "intent to insult the modesty of a woman through words and gesture, defamation and dissemination through computer of information that they knew was false but was meant to “cause annoyance, inconvenience, criminal intimidation”"

The photo below depicts a scene from the film, Sonar Kella:

For those not conversant with Bengali or have not seen the Satayajit Ray classic Sonar Kella:

Mamata: dekhte pachho mukul, sonar kella? [Can you see Mukul, the Golden Fortress -- this is actually a dialogue from Sonar Kella a film by Satyajit Ray, which also has a young protagonist called Mukul]

Mukul: otaa dushtu lok! [Here the Mukul is Mukul Roy, the railway minister appointed in place of Dinesh Trivedi, who was forced to resign after presenting the railway budget: That is a bad man!]

Mamata: Dushtu lok? Vanish! [Bad man? Vanish!]

Reacting to this outrageous development, on Times Now, Professor Ashis Nandy said, inter alia:

"I would advise Ms Banerjee to seek the help of psychiatrists in Calcutta. I would diagnose her as suffering from incipient paranoia. She sees enemies and controversies against her everywhere...She is taking upon herself the responsibility of interpreting the constitution of India when there are far better people than her to do so... All sorts of people manage to come into power these days, from nuts to psychopaths to paranoids... and I am afraid West Bengal has been saddled with a chief minister who seems to be suffering from paranoia...Mamata Banerjee should be advised to dismiss all the editors of all the newspapers and become the editor herself. She should even draw the cartoons herself. Then she would not have any reason to grumble.... We are stuck with a nut."

Activists point out that these arrests today underline the need for annulment of IT Rules 2011. As Pavan Duggal, a cyber law expert points out, unless the prosecutors withdraw the case themselves, even though the charges they are booked under are bailable, the sheer due process is going to be "living hell" for the duo. 

In that regard here is the text of a petition put out by SFLC.in:

Dear Member of Parliament,

The Constitution of India provides the citizens of this country the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression subject to reasonable restrictions as laid down in the Constitution itself. Now, with the spread of the Internet and the availability of tools like blogs and social networks we are able to enjoy this freedom to the fullest and have a true participatory democracy.

You, as legislators recognised the importance of intermediaries like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Internet Service Providers for e-commerce as well as for free expression, helping us to express ourselves and provided them protection from any legal liability that could arise out of content generated by users. Such a protection provided in the Information Technology Act, 2000 was important for these intermediaries to operate freely without threats of frivolous legal action.

Now, the Government wants to impose restrictive, unconstitutional guidelines on the intermediaries via the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 notified in April 2011.

The rules cast an obligation on the intermediaries to remove access to any content on receiving a complaint from an affected person that it falls under the category of a wide, vague, undefined list of “unlawful” content specified in the rules. This vague list includes content considered as ‘blasphemous’, ‘libellous’, ‘grossly harmful’, ‘harassing’, or ‘disparaging’. The rules mandate the intermediaries to decide whether content is “lawful”, thereby bye-passing judicial processes. The rules also allow Government agencies to access personal data of users without any legal safeguards. These rules are violative of our constitutional rights of freedom of expression and privacy and are also against the intent of the Parliament as stated in the Information Technology Act, 2000.

We appeal to you to support the motion for annulment of the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 being moved in the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha and to ask the Government to draft new rules which will protect our freedom and privacy.

[Your name]

SFLC.in also has a very brief primer on the IT Rules here. You can consider signing the petition here or write to your MP directly.

17 Apr 2012, 04:36:30 PM | Buzz

15 Apr 2012, 04:54:27 PM | Sundeep Dougal

Ruchir Joshi in the Telegraph: The Moral Minefield

Madam, perhaps it might be time for you to resign and go.

Had someone in your administration, whoever was in charge of fire safety, taken responsibility and resigned after the AMRI fire, it may not have come to this. Had you fought your own rising paranoia and kept from commenting after the Park Street rape, it may not have come to this. Had you realized that you had not only offended the modesty of a rape victim but the collective conscience of Bengal and unreservedly apologized to the woman, it may not have come to this. Had you not transferred the police officer who proved that rape, you could have perhaps escaped this situation. Had you kept from compounding your mistake by similar irresponsible and callous comments about other assaults on women, or on the murders in Burdwan, it may have been different now. Had you not treated every bit of tragic news as only a lens through which to gaze lovingly and protectively at yourself, you may still have kept some credibility. Had you avoided attacking newspapers and TV channels that were critical of you, you would have been left with some democratic honour. Had you not pushed out your own minister from the door of the runaway train of your rule, there would have been no mild photo-cartoon sent to 25 of the 90 million people you rule and no criminal over-reaction from your party goondas and your paaltu police. As it is, you now oblige us to remember that adage about history repeating itself, first as tragedy and then as a farce: if the Left Front was the tragedy, you — and since there is no one but you in your Trinamul, you, solely — are the macabre farce.

15 Apr 2012, 04:44:36 PM | Sundeep Dougal

Sanjay Mandal in the Telegraph: Not laughing matter, a treasure trove Realty spoils at stake in joke joust:

“Yesterday’s assault on Mahapatra and the arrests are linked to vacant plots worth crores inside the co-operative,” a board member alleged.

Subrata Sengupta, the retired engineer arrested with Mahapatra, is secretary of the housing society.

The co-operative is to elect its next board on May 20. While there is nothing wrong with a call for change, “paribartan” is a word that has become synonymous with Trinamul and there are allegations of coercion and veiled threats to the incumbent board by real estate players.

“Several people involved with real estate were here on Thursday along with local Trinamul leaders and presented inflated bills that said the housing society owed them as much as Rs 17 lakh,” the board member added.

15 Apr 2012, 03:07:26 AM | Buzz

Subrata Nagchoudhury in the Indian Express: Between the cartoon’s lines: Disputed bill of Rs 17 lakh, TMC nexus with local business:

The honour of their supreme leader Mamata Banerjee may not have been the provocation for Trinamool Congress members to allegedly assault Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra and force his arrest over a satirical cartoon.

In fact, the sequence of events on April 12 confirms how the cartoon email was used to settle business scores via politics.

14 Apr 2012, 09:16:33 PM | Buzz

And now an online exhibition of cartoons on the revered Chief Minister of West Bengal | http://bit.ly/IJ2bxw

14 Apr 2012, 03:07:12 AM | Buzz

The Telegraph points out:

First, you can’t laugh in Bengal at the expense of those in power.

“This is very autocratic…. I earlier did not want to use the word ‘scary’ but I have to admit that this scares me,” said economist Abhirup Sarkar, who has been a vocal supporter of the new government on several issues.

Second, even the everyday act of circulating something that you have found humorous could cause you bodily harm and invite police action.

Third, if you happen to be the secretary of your residential society and if someone uses the society’s mail to send jokes that the ruling party finds offensive, you are in trouble.

Fourth, the offence of attempting to outrage the modesty of a woman has been given a mystifying definition...

Sukanta Chaudhuri, the renowned academic known for measured words, expressed incredulity. “When the chief minister of the state is a woman, then should every criticism of the government now amount to insulting the honour of a woman? Then any speech becomes impossible!” said Chaudhuri, professor emeritus, Jadavpur University.

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