A Hindu right-wing political outfit by the name ‘Hindu Sanghatan’ has made a complaint against Tamil Nadu Times Now Bureau Chief of Shabbir Ahmad and Journalist Swathi Vadlamudi for creating and sharing a cartoon on social media. The cartoon showed the mythological Hindu god Rama and his wife Sita, with Sita indicating that Hindu fanatics (or known as ‘bhakts’) are engaged in violence against women.
The cartoon was published in the light of the recent developments where Asifa Banu, an eight-year-old Muslim girl was raped and murdered inside a temple in Jammu and Kashmir. Recently, a rape victim in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh had also tried to commit suicide in front of Chief Minister Adityanath’s residence stating how the state was refusing to take action against BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar, who raped her.
The newspaper that Sita holds in the cartoon has headlines of these incidents and she is shown as telling her husband Ram, ‘I’m so glad I was kidnapped by Ravan and not by your Bhakts,’ referring to a story in Hindu mythology. A lot of right-wingers consider themselves on a mission to establish what they call ‘Ram Rajya’ literally, ‘Country of Ram.’
After the publication of the cartoon, online right wing trolls and affiliates started pouring abusive messages to her and also threatened to kill her. Some cited the examples of Gauri Lankesh and Charlie Hebdo to say that Vadlamudi will face the same violence for her cartoon. As a response to these threats, the journalist started posting the hate messages she was receiving and also said that she was taking legal advice on the matter.
Shabbir Ahmad, Tamil Nadu bureau chief of Times Now channel, was threatened for sharing the same cartoon on his social media page. He had shared the cartoon on Twitter saying that it was ‘a slap on the face of Bhakts’ along with hashtags, #JusticeForAsifa #UnnaoHorror #SackRapeApologists and #SackCMYogi (Referring to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath).
The complaint has been filed by Karuna Sagar, President of Hindu Sanghatan and an advocate in Saidabad police station, Hyderabad. The first complaint was filed against Shabbir Ahmad for hurting Hindu sentiments and later another complaint was added to it after identifying Swathi Vadlamudi as the author of the cartoon.
This is one of the many instances where right-wing outfits targeted journalists, media persons, and artists with lawsuits and police complaints in apparent instances of threats to freedom of speech. Often the artists are subjected to online abuse and mass reporting.
In 2014, when cartoonist Kanika Mishra published a cartoon that mocked Hindu god person Asaram Bapu, she and her family were subjected to harassment by the man’s cult followers. Asaram Bapu had made demeaning remarks about Jyoti Singh, a rape victim who was raped by multiple people and later died of injuries resulting from it. Later, under complaints filed by multiple women including minors, Asaram was himself arrested on charges of rape and illegal confinement. Mishra had juxtaposed these two and had ridiculed Asaram.
In Rajasthan, the ruling BJP has put in place an ordinance that prohibits coverage of any allegations against public servants until the government itself sanctions an official investigation into the charges. In October 2017, Jay Shah, son of BJP President Amit Shah, filed a criminal defamation case against The Wire, who published an article about how the revenues of Jay Shah’s company had grown massively the year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power.
Comedian Shyam Rangeela had revealed in October 2017 that his actions that made fun of PM Modi were not aired on Star Plus, the channel that hosted the show. He was asked to perform it again without criticising the PM.
It is not just artists and media persons who have been threatened by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for expressing their opinion. In many instances, ordinary citizens have been targeted and even arrested for criticising the right wing or Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In some of the instances, the victims have been citizens who cracked jokes in private chats.
In 2017, in Tamil Nadu, S Thirumurugan, an 18-year-old engineering graduate was arrested for making remarks against Modi in a private chat on Facebook. In a conversation with his Facebook friend Marimuthu on Facebook private messenger, Thirumurugan had abused Modi in connection with the dialogues in the Tamil film Mersal. The film itself had come under heavy attack of BJP supporters for some dialogues in it that criticised Modi.
In March 2017, after BJP’s Adityanath had sworn in as the Chief Minister of India’s largest constituency, Uttar Pradesh, four people were arrested in a span of 24 hours for posting pictures that mocked the CM.
Mohammad Salman was arrested upon the complaint of Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, (ABVP) the student wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Hindu nationalist party to which BJP belongs. The complaint against Salman was that he had forwarded a photo of Adityanath.
Jayprakash Yadav was arrested on a similar complaint made by BJP workers. Hindu Yuva Vahini, a right-wing outfit established by Adityanath himself, filed a complaint against Brijesh Srivastava.
Abdul Razak was not only arrested, but his family was threatened by local Yuva Vahini members and the District Magistrate Sanjay Khatri and the police had to intervene to contain the situation. Razak too was accused of having uploaded an image of Adityanath on social media.
In another incident in Uttar Pradesh, in April 2017, Zakir Ali Tyagi, a young Muslim boy, was arrested for having joked about river Ganga and criticising right-wing politics around the Babri Masjid issue. He was charged with sedition after securing bail and was tortured while in police custody.
Zakir had questioned Uttarakhand High Court verdict that gave legal person status to rivers Ganga and Yamuna. The rivers, especially Ganga, is considered holy by the Hindus. Zakir had joked whether one would be prosecuted if they drowned in Ganga under the new verdict.
Another accusation made against him was that he had used another person’s photograph as his profile picture on Facebook. Zakir’s picture at the time was that of sub-inspector Akhtar Khan who was killed in action by brigands in Greater Noida last year. This was defined as ‘cheating’ in the charge sheet.