Two young men from the Khargone district in Madhya Pradesh, India, have been arrested for distributing obscene material over the internet. They face a possible three to five year jail sentence.
22-year-old Shaquir Yunus Banthia and 21-year-old college student Wasim Sheikh were arrested earlier this month after sharing on Facebook and WhatsApp an altered image of Mohan Bhagwat, leader of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a large Hindu NGO that aims “to carry the nation to the pinnacle of glory.” The image showed RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s head spliced onto the body of a woman wearing tight brown pants and a white shirt. According to protesters, the image was offensive and intentionally meant to mock the dress code of the RSS. According to Khargone superintendent of police Amit Kumar Singh, who spoke with the Hindustan Times, the young men are being accused of violating Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, “hurting religious sentiments,” and “posting obscene material electronically.”
The image was allegedly created and shared on the internet by the two men in response to the change in uniforms by the RSS — a change from khaki shorts to brown pants designed to attract a young population of followers and to “move with the times.” According to Section 67 of the Information Technology Act which outlines “Punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form:”
Whoever publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted in the electronic form, any material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect is such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it, shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and with fine which may extend to five lakh rupees […]
Although the actual intent behind the creation of the image is unclear, as Abhirr VP, Campaigner at Amnesty International India points out, “Arresting people simply because they mocked public figures is an absurd overreaction by the authorities,” adding:
Last year, the Supreme Court struck down section 66A of the Information Technology Act for violating the constitutional right to freedom of expression. It is disappointing to see the Madhya Pradesh police continuing to abuse the Act.
The arrest is currently being questioned in light of information that the two young men might not have even have created the image, but the fact remains that many believe that the police have overstepped their bounds, misused Section 67 of the IT Act, and violated the basic right to freedom of expression.
“Advocacy of hatred requires a clear showing of intent to urge others to discriminate, be hostile toward, or commit violence against the group in question,” writes Amnesty International in their press release for the immediate release of the men. “There must be a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the resulting risk of discrimination, hostility or violence.”
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!