Men Arrested in India for E-Mailing Cartoon

When Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra e-mailed a cartoon mocking an Indian politician to friends, he probably didn’t expect to be arrested by local police in a midnight raid. Appallingly, Mahapatra and neighbor Subrata Sengupta were arrested in such a raid in April, and their case comes to trial in September. In response to the arrests, the West Bengal Human Rights Commission has asked authorities to take disciplinary action against the arresting officers and to compensate the men for their discomfort.

The Times of India shared the story, writing:

The duo got bail the next day, but the uproar caused by the arrests led to the WBHRC taking up the case on its own. The recommendations, which came on Monday, are, however, not binding on the government. Neither will they have any bearing on the ongoing case, which will come up for hearing at Alipore court on September 27. The three-member WBHRC is headed by Justice (retd) Asok Kumar Ganguly, who was part of the two-judge Supreme Court bench that delivered the 2G verdict earlier this year. Its other members are Justice (retd) N C Sil and S N Roy.

Quoting Jawaharlal Nehru, the commission said, “Nehru once said ‘it is good to have the veil of our conceit torn occasionally’. Referring to veteran cartoonist Shankar, Nehru also said, ‘Don’t spare me'”. Wondering why Mahapatra and Sengupta were victimized when “even during Emergency, when pre-censorship of the press was imposed, pre-censorship on cartoons was lifted after the first the first three months”, it found additional officer-in-charge Milan Das and sub-inspector Sanjay Biswas of East Jadavpur police station guilty of wrongful detention.

The Times further described the “crime” the men were accused of:

“At the time of their arrest, only allegations… were that they circulated by email a cartoon which was derogatory to hon’ble chief minister… Our constitution protects every citizen’s fundamental right of free speech and expression… No law in our country prevents criticism against ministers of chief minister however popular they may be or even a door-to-door critical campaign against ministers,” the WBHRC order said.

The commission found nothing wrong with the spoof. “This cartoon obviously referred to the recent political events in the aftermath of removal of Mr Dinesh Trivedi … and the appointment of Mr Mukul Roy. No one can attribute even remotely any suggestion which is lewd or indecent and slang … in respect of the subject. Therefore the case against those persons under Section 509 IPC prima facie does not lie,” it observed, questioning the grounds for framing of charges.

Mahapatra believes the arrests were retaliation ordered by someone superior to the arresting policemen and is protesting the arrest to prevent future harassment by officials. For more details on the case, visit The Times of India website here.

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Betsy Gomez is the Web Editor for CBLDF.