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India: Professor Arrested for Forwarding “Defamatory” Cartoon in West Bengal

The week has seen a lot of backlash and protests on the Indian social media scene against West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for the tyrannical attempts to gag any criticism against her or her governance. One trending topic on Twitter #ArrestMeNow is the fieriest of them all.

The Twitter tag #Arrestmenow is the Twitterati’s open challenge to Ms Mamata Banerjee to come and arrest everybody who dares to make fun of her in public. As it turns out that’s a lot of people with a lot of daring, since the tag is currently trending at number one in India.

To briefly mention the background of this trend, earlier this week, a chemistry professor of Kolkata’s premier Jadavpur University was arrested for making a forwarding a cartoon by email that poked fun at Mamta Banerjee and her administrative actions. The cartoon made reference to Ms Banerjee’s recent coercive role in the ousting of the Central Railway Minister Mr Dinesh Trivedi and his replacement by Mukul Roy.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banarjee. Image by Dipyaman Sarkar. Copyright Demotix (04/02/12).

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banarjee. Image by Dipyaman Sarkar. Copyright Demotix (04/02/12).

While the initial reaction came largely from the Bengali community of intellectuals and artists fraternity, today Indian Twitter users have joined the protest with their best weapon: humor. Hundreds of tweets are being floated by seconds and minutes with pot shots at Mamta Banerjee.

In addition there are tags like #didigiri #cartoon which are also being regularly used by Twitter users to express Mamata's ongoing controversial administration in the state of West Bengal.

Follow the latest trend here. Below are the ones that I thought stood out.

@harqblack: Why did Mamata Banerjee cross the road? To see if the chicken was making fun of her.

@rameshsrivats: Dear Mamata, Normally, the cartoonist tries to capture the subject. Not vice versa.

@acorn: ”In bourgeois society capital is independent & has individuality, while the living person is dependent & has no individuality”

@twilightfairy: I suggest we all make cartoons of Mamata. i.e. cartoons of the cartoon. Fill in cartons & cart them to the cartoon.

@Purba_Ray: Dear Mamata Di, Poschim Bongo is not a school that needs disciplining. The state needs direction, not caning.

@bhalomanush: Son was smiling. I sternly warned him- “if you laugh at dushtu jokes then the Kolkata police will arrest you.” He is crying now.

@ibnebattuta: Jadhavpur Univ Prof arrested for forwarding Mamata Bonkerjee cartoons in email. Welcome to the North Korea of West Bengal.

Serious concerns are being raised by several key players regarding Ms Mamata's autocratic style of governance in the state of west Bengal during the last ten months of her coming into power after more than three decades of CPIM rule. There is a general feeling of disillusionment among masses who had pinned high hopes of seeing great positive change in West Bengal with Mamata's win.

Fellow Jadavpur University Professor, Rimi B Chaterjee asks:

So what is this new Bengal Didi wants to build? Does it involve cartoons, or creepy text messages? Transferred police officers or five streetlights per square foot? The other political parties have kept a low profile so far, waiting for Didi to implode under the weight of her own ego. I don’t think they’ll have to wait long.

Rimi also further observes that:

Isn’t it odd how tyrants always start out being funny? All bullies do, I guess. Then they want to wipe the grins off people’s faces. Thus the pogroms begin. But on a more serious note, perhaps this is indicative of hte fact that DID doesn’t really care about the press, the intelligentsia or the ‘sushil samaj’ (civil society) that helped bring her to power. Like the Left before her, she wants to create exclusive rural pockets of power which she will protect as rotten boroughs. Kolkata is just a showpiece to her.

question posed on Facebook:

“Arrest of the Jadavpur professor for sharing cartoon-what is your reaction” was answered by “pure and simple fascism” by the majority.

An anonymous blogger compares the situation with an overall intolerance towards freedom of speech in India:

And this on the same day that an author has to leave the country because he’s written a biography of Aurobindo that somebody somewhere has a problem with. And on the same day that Raj Thackeray tells the sitting Chief Minister of Bihar that he had better not visit Bombay. (Nitish Kumar apparently retorted that he doesn’t need a visa to visit Bombay.)

As a society, we seem to be collectively going in entirely the wrong direction on the right to free speech.

Indian social media users have always been vocal against any of the governments attempt to censor freedom of speech, online criticism, creative freedom, etc. In the past, similar reactions have been meted out to Kapil Sibal, Central Minister of Communication and Information Technology (See Global Voices story on Kapil Sibal).

Whether or not a series of short lived humorous Twitter updates would deter the government from taking further arbitrary actions, is a hard question to answer. But in all likelihood with India soon to become the second largest country on the internet, with over 130 million of its population already on it, they would really think twice.

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