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Legitimising fascism
Ominous signs of silencing the voices of sanity and reasons by mobocracy
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The frivolous grounds on which Maharashtra police swopped in on two girls for their facebook posts, opposing the Mumbai bandh over the death of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, is something that portends a dangerous signal in this democratic country and needs to be taken much more seriously than it has already been taken. Two girls were arrested after one of them, Shaheen Dhaada commented on social networking site facebook, without mentioning the name of Bal Thackeray, “With all respect, every day, thousands of people die, but still the world moves on. Just due to one politician died a natural death, everyone just goes bonkers. They should know, we are resilient by force, not by choice. When was the last time, did anyone show some respect or even a two-minute silence for Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Azad, Sukhdev or any of the people because of whom we are free-living Indians? Respect is earned, given, and definitely not forced. Today, Mumbai shuts down due to fear, not due to respect.” The crime of her friend Rina was to like and share the status. There is apparently nothing defamatory about the status update; nor does it amount to any kind of religious incitement. But the haste in which the police acted by clamping down on the girls under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (“outraging religous feelings of any class”) or even the draconian Section 66A of the IT Act (“sending offensive messages through communication service, etc.”) and later replacing the first charge with section 505(2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes), only in a bid to cool down the tempers of some Shiv Sainiks protesting over the status updates, smacks of fascism of the worst kind. That the Shiv Sainiks were quick in re-enacting the fascist legacy of their deceased supremo, there was never any doubt about that. But that a law keeping force which should be protecting citizens from fascism, hate soaked ideology and bullying tactics of such groups, should begin to play into their hands and twist the laws to suit the goons is what causes great worries in a democratic country. The manner in which the police moved and the courts also willingly sent the two arrested girls to judicial remand of 14 days before they were bailed out by paying a fine is a dangerous reflection of how such fascist tendencies are sought to be legitimised and strengthened.

There has been justified outrage over the incident and no less than the chief of Press Council of India and former Supreme Court Justice Markande Katju has asked the Maharashtra chief minister to take strict disciplinary action against the police officers for the wrongful arrests. However, despite such voices of reason, the response of the government has been feeble. While the Congress high command, a party also in power in Maharashtra has simply termed the incident as “unfortunate” and hoped that the Maharashtra government would take the much needed remedial measures, the Mumbai police chief has sheepishly admitted that the arrests were wrong. But would any action be stringently taken against the errant officers for abuse of laws and the perverse manner in which they have been selectively and arbitrarily invoked remains to be seen. The entire arrest fiasco of the two girls doesn’t seem to have ended on a very promising note as despite all the outrage, the girls were made to offer a public apology before they were bailed out. The medical clinic of the uncle of Shaheen, who dared to create a status update that irked the Shiv Sainiks, has been allowed to be vandalized, and both the girls have even de-activivated their accounts out of fear. Where is the rule of the law? The brazen manner in which the State has responded, both in playing in the hands of fascist elements and in wriggling itself out of the mess with sheepish remarks points out the inherent dangers in the legal system which is used to gag free speech with ambiguous provisions of laws and the mindless application of laws. The incident reflects the serious need to initiate a national level debate on what constitutes free speech.

What also comes into play is the duplicity of the liberals and intellectuals of the country, who encourage the growth of legitimacy to such fascist acts with their selective silence. Though there has been widespread outrage over the Mumbai arrests, similar incidents in Kashmir where youth, including girls, have been detained and arrested for writing about the brutality of the police and security forces have not even raised an eyebrow. The official justification of such arrests by branding them as acts of terror, are accepted as gospel’s truth even by the liberals of the country. Selective condemnation of such strong arm and fascist tactics, sponsored and endorsed by the State, against those who dare to dissent, therefore, cannot create space for more democratic nuances unless and until there is an unequivocal condemnation of such victimization, irrespective of the caste, colour, creed and political views of the victim.
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News Updated at : Tuesday, November 20, 2012
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