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.
Sheeba Aslam Fehmi, a journalist and a Ph.D. Fellow in JNU, received several threats by emails from one Pankaj Kumar Dwivedi, which warned her of ‘consequences’ and even demanded she meet the man so that he could ‘cleanse’ her of her ‘filth.’
One email read:
Sheeba Aslam,stop posting AntiIndian and
AntiNational comments on face book. Stop immediately. Otherwise be
prepared for it’s consequences.
Another email read:
Sheeba Aslam,stop posting AntiIndian and AntiNational
comments on face book. Stop immediately. Otherwise be prepared for it’s
Yet another read:
“Please allow me to come to the JNU once. I like to have a discussions with you there only. An open and fair debate is necessary to clean off all the filth and dirt from your mind and make you pure and pious so that you may loving India and its people. It is not scholarly to criticize every established institution and tradition and speak anti government or anti Indian”, Whenever, we find an opportunity. Doing such things on social sites can only be a sign of cowardice”.
“Kindly read my comments again they are anti establishment only. I love my mother land.”
To which Dwivedi again replied,
“Sheeba, you can’t impress or influence mind set of true Indians with your anti Indian and anti national posting and comments. If you have doubts and disbelieves, I challenge for you an open and fair debate on all the issues of national interests concerning India and its people. I am confident that you will be outwitted, if you agree for an fair discussion on all the matters of national importance. Reply me, if you are courageous if to debate with a true spirited Indian. In case you are not, stop misleading people. Thank you.”
Behind all the talk of ‘open and fair debate,’ the fact remained that a man who had threatened ‘consequences’ and ‘cleansing’ and continued to abuse her political and social views as ‘anti-national,’ was insisting on meeting her face to face. She was being stalked thus by Dwivedi, who was insisting on meeting her even as he continued to abuse her. Stalking includes repeated unwelcome and threatening communications. Fearful, Ms. Fehmi filed an FIR, and he was arrested and charged under 66(A) of The Information Technology Act. (Ms Fehmi has clarified that she finds 66(A) draconian and anti-dissent, and her complaint was that she was being stalked and threatened by a stranger. but the police chose to invoke 66(A).)
In Court, Dwivedi placed Ms Fehmi’s Facebook post as justification for his righteous attempts to ‘cleanse’ her of ‘anti-national’ thoughts. He found a soul-mate in Metropolitan Magistrate RK Pandey, who ordered thus:
“In my considered opinion, raising national slogans, opposing anti national sentiments and words and opposing anti establishment words and asking for fair debate on anti national sentiments of any person is no way attract the criminal law even if the words used are harsh in nature and are covered under the provisions of Fundamental Rights as provided under Article 19 of The Indian Constitution. In view of the above discussion, the accused Pankaj Kuamr Dwivedi s/o Sh M.P.Dwivedi stands discharged from the offence u/s 66 A of The Information Technology Act.”
Here, he dismissed Dwivedi’s ‘warnings’ of ‘consequences’ and of ‘cleansing’ as mere ‘harsh words.’ But maybe the honourable magistrate is just very democratic, tolerant and vigilant in his defence of free speech?
Not quite. He found that Ms. Fehmi’s political opinions to be criminal in nature!
Here’s what he said about her Facebook posts:
“On perusal of record it reveals that complainant by way of her post on social media published the following which is as:
…the reality is totally opposite to what they have been claiming all along. That is, these people were killed by the Gujarat police to profile Modi as a great Hindu leader. For this, they needed Muslims. So, they picked them up from all over the country, got them to Gujarat and then shot them dead by claiming they were terrorists. He won the 2007 elections solely on these killings.
…First they Raped the
Shudra women and I did not speak out because I was in Upper Caste Hindu.
Then they came for the Muslim women and I did not speak out because I was in Upper Caste Hindu.
Then they came for the Manipuri women and I did not speak out because I was in Upper Caste Hindu.
Then they came for the Tribal women and I did not speak out because I was in Upper Caste Hindu.
Then they came for me and there was an outstanding outrage because I was in Upper Caste Hindu…
… Narendra Modi is directly involved in the genocide of more than 8000 Indians as a Chief Minister. He supervised the killings, loot, arson, rapes and maiming of citizens who were under his protection.
… Great! Kinhe ab tak nahi khabar thi wo ab bkhabar ho rahe hain ki Modi genocide organiser hai.
…A day of another sick ‘parampara’! Making women eternally weak, and men eternal savior(On Raksha Bandhan festival)
All the above postings/publication of the complainant on social media attracts the provisions of IPC under section 153 (A), 153(B) and section 295 A IPC but police has neither registered any case against the complainant nor investigated the publication as mentioned above. Accordingly, SHO concerned is directed to register a separate FIR and investigate the publication as published by the complainant on social media and file the compliance report within three weeks from today.”
Clearly, Ms Fehmi had a critique of the anti-corruption and anti-rape movements. I personally disagree with some aspects of her assessment of the uniformly RSS or upper caste bias of those movements. Her adaptation does pose an uncomfortable question to us all, about the different levels of ‘outrage’ over equally heinous rapes, while I would point out that most rapes of ‘upper caste Hindu’ women do not, in fact, result in outrage or protests.
But how do those views, shared by many, become a threat to communal harmony or national integration, or an ‘insult to religious feelings’ (the crimes implied by the Sections 153 A and B and 295 A IPC)?! How do such opinions become a crime?
Her views on Modi as facilitator of genocide are shared by thousands. And her critique of the patriarchal underpinnings of Raksha Bandhan is common too— I came across scores of similar comments on social media this year, and have made similar critiques myself. How come all of us haven’t been arrested for similar posts? It’s no coincidence, is it, that the girl arrested in Palghar for a Facebook post critiquing Bal Thackeray, and the woman against whom an FIR has been ordered in Delhi for critiquing Modi and RSS, have been singled out because they are both Muslim?
What this incident shows is the alarming weakness of our country’s institutions, in the face of communal fascism. The communal and political biases of the police have of course been on display many times, with tragic consequences, most glaringly in communal violence. The Courts too are not necessarily a guarantor of Constitutional liberties. Metropolitan Magistrate RK Pandey’s order is outrageously unconstitutional, and must of course be challenged in and struck down by higher courts.
And let’s take Pastor Neimoller’s poem to heart:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.
Let’s each of us speak out for Sheeba and Shaheen— and in doing so speak for our own freedoms and defend our own liberties. A year ago, we raised slogans on the street demanding women’s ‘Bekhauf Azaadi’. That ‘azaadi’ must include the right of every woman to express political opinions freely without being stalked by hate-mongers and arrested.
Update: Ms. Fehmi has got anticipatory bail and therefore reprieve from arrest. All possible efforts must be made to make everyone sit up and take notice of this violation of freedom of speech and intimidation of a woman.
Kavita Krishnan is Secretary, AIPWA, and tweets at @kavita_krishnan