PUDR statement condemning the Kolkata arrests on the issue of cartoons

April 13, 2012

PUDR is astounded by the West Bengal government’s latest incident of intolerance of dissent and suppression of democratic rights. Media sources state that a professor of Chemistry at Jadavpur University, Ambikesh Mahapatra, was assaulted by TMC hoodlums at his residence and then arrested on 12th April for allegedly circulating, by email, a political cartoon lampooning the chief minister, Ms. Mamata Banerjee for the rail budget fiasco. A neighbour of the professor, Mr. Subrata Sengupta, has also been picked up. The police has charged Prof. Mahapatra under u/s 66, (sending offensive messages through electronic mail) of the IT Act, and u/s 500 (defamation), 509 (insulting the modesty of a woman through word, gesture or act) and u/s114 (presence of abettor at the time of commission of offence) IPC. A light-hearted, non-professional attempt of the variety that is very common on the internet, the cartoon can be viewed with a simple Google search or at the website of major media organisations reporting the incident (eg. Hindustan Times or IBNlive.in.com). The absurdity of the charges are self-evident.

It has been reported that Mr Madan Mitra, the Trinamul minister who led yesterday’s TMC goon squad violence on democratic rights activists from APDR has defended the attack on Prof. Mahapatra.

Throughout the month of April, a number of incidents including arbitrary extra-legal assaults and violent police action on peaceful, democratic protest are showing the TMC led West Bengal government’s extreme intolerance of any form of dissent. First there was the brutal demolition of the Nonadanga slums to hand the land over to real estate developers. Then the anti-eviction activists are arrested and slapped with ridiculous charges without an iota of substantive evidence. The convenient ‘Maoist’ bogey is being invoked, as if that relieves the state of all responsibility to follow the due process of the law.

It has also been reported that some of the arrested activists are being booked under UAPA the notorious ‘terror’ law, again without a shred of real evidence. Evidently, peaceful protests on issues of life and livelihood or political dissent have become an ‘act of terror’ in the eyes of the West Bengal government.

On the other hand, TMC goon squads are being unleashed on people’s protests and activists. The administration has the full political backing to shield the perpetrators of these attacks and arrest the victims.

It has also been reported that the government is trying to implicate the arrested activists in old cases pertaining to the Nandigram protests – which is doubly shocking, given that Nandigram was one of Mamata Banerjee’s prime electoral planks.

PUDR wishes to remind those in power in Kolkata that the fundamental right to speech, thought and association cannot be curbed simply because a government dislikes democratic forms of dissent or disagrees with the politics of the protesters.

PUDR demands

* An unconditional release of Professor Mahapatra and Mr. Sengupta
* Immediate and unconditional release of all arrestees on the Nonadanga anti-eviction issue
* An FIR be lodged against the TMC goons who are leading the assaults on dissenters
* That the draconian, anti-democracy UAPA not be invoked to deal with peaceful protests

Paramjeet Singh and Preeti Chauhan
Secretaries, PUDR