Ravi Kiran Jain, President
Dr. V. Suresh, General Secretary
The PUCL condemns the action of Mumbai Police for registering on 16th July, 2017 a criminal case of defamation and obscenity against the comedy group, `All India Bakchod’ (AIB) for allegedly caricaturing the PM, Narendra Modi. According to the police AIB had on Thursday, 15th July, tweeted a picture of a Modi look-alike standing in a railway station, peering into his phone and a special effects app which allows users to add a dog]s nose, ears and tongue over their face while taking a selfie or other photographs. The tweet carried the hashtag “#wanderlust” apparently referring to the frequent foreign trips of the PM.
The Mumbai police registered the FIR, reportedly based on the complaint of a Twitter user on charges of `defamation’ under section 500 of the IPC and “publishing / transmitting obscene material in electronic form under section 67 of the Information Technology Act.
The alacrity of the Cyber Cell of the Mumbai Police to so quickly register a FIR against AIB is to put it mildly, bizarre, unintelligible and senseless. It escapes common sense and is baffling how the twitter picture of a Modi-look alike fully clothed, standing in a railway station, can amount to being “lascivious or appeals to the prurient interests of or tends to deprave and corrupt persons”, which are all ingredients to establish an offence under section 67 of the IT Act. It is also inconceivable that the Mumbai police do not know that an offence of defamation under section 500 IPC cannot be registered by the police but requires a private criminal complaint to be filed before the Magistrate’s court.
So how do we explain what appears to be a clear and gross abuse of law by the police against the comedy group? Is it merely a bona fide mistake in understanding the law? Or is there a more sinister purpose behind the police’s action?
The present action of the Cyber cell of the Mumbai police will have to be seen in the backdrop of recent history of police action against creative artistes lampooning ruling party leaders in different states. In Maharashtra itself the police quickly registered cases against cartoonists like Aseem Trivedi and against 2 young girls for FB posts at funeral of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray. In West Bengal CM Mamta Banerjee got a Jadavpur University professor arrested for comments about the government’s policies. In all these cases, the attempt of the police and their political masters was to stifle and silence any form of criticism of their rule and to crush any form of dissent.
The inability and intolerance of the ruling political class to appreciate political satire and humour is accompanied with a savage venality to abuse criminal law by arresting and prosecuting creative artistes, writers, cartoonists and others. Unfortunately, the police, who have a professional duty to abide by the law and the Constitution, fail in their duty. The police is expected not to blindly implement whatever is asked of them but to advice their political masters on what is and what is not permitted in the law. Thus by consciously and willfully abusing the law by launching questionable prosecutions the police not only turn accomplices to the abuse of criminal law but end up silencing and crushing creative criticism, generation of a critical discourse about social and political events and political dissent.
This is not the first time the AIB has been targeted with criminal cases; previously when they lampooned Bollywood celebrities they were criminally prosecuted and also threatened with violence. If a well known group such as AIB can be targeted so blatantly by the Police agencies, then the fate of ordinary citizens can be well imagined when they exercise their freedom of expression.
It will not be out of place to point out that India has a long tradition of cartoonist lampooning political leaders. Morarji Desai as PM was depicted as a rooster, Rajaji as a cobra, SP Mukherjee as a got and Sheikh Abdullah as a lion.
PUCL decries the actions of the Police against those who venture to hold or express opposing opinions, including through use of humour. The PUCL also believes that such misuse of the powers under CrPC given to the Police puts serious questions regarding credibility and impartiality of the Police agencies, and is not in the long term interest of the nation. The actions of the Maharashtra Police are intended to have a “chilling effect” on Indian citizens constitutionally ordained right to free speech and expression.
The PUCL calls upon all citizens to continuously remain vigilant and oppose all anti-democratic and anti-human rights actions and decisions of the Government (both Central and State) so that our precious fundamental rights and freedoms are not crushed, weakened and denied.
Ironically the Mumbai police seem not to have noticed the PM’s twitter of 14th January, 2017 saying “I think we need more satire and humour. Humour brings happiness in our lives. Humour is the best healer” and a further tweet in March, 2017 saying “We surely need more humour in public life”!
Worldwide the trend is towards greater transparency and a open society with humour used as a key tool to raise political debate. Ironically, in India we seem to be regressing, with more and greater political intolerance to free speech and humour and becoming more repressive than it was during the colonial regime!
Very clearly, the police in India need to have `humour sensitivity training’!
1. The FIR against AIB must be withdrawn immediately and due disciplinary enquiry must be conducted against police officers involved in abuse of the law by registration of FIR No. 50/2017 Cyber Police Station, Mumbai.
2. Criminal action must be initiated against the de facto complainant under Section 182 and 211 IPC for filing the false complaints against AIB.
3. 1. The Parliament and the Law Commission of India through their appropriate mechanisms must look into the issue of misuse of Section 499/500 IPC (Criminal Defamation) and Sections of the IT Act such as Section 67, and appropriately modify/amend/repeal them.