Abhijit Iyer Mitra, a defence journalist, is in jail for the past one month for cracking jokes which “threatened the social harmony” of Odisha. The joke which he posted on his twitter timeline irked Naveen Patnaik led Odisha government so much that a special assembly session was called on 20 September and a privilege motion demanding action against Mitra for hurting religious sentiments was moved. Odisha police arrested him on October 23 under sections 295-A and 153-A of the Indian Penal Code. Following his unconditional apology, Odisha state assembly recently on November 17 passed a motion deciding to forgive him.
The Joke and the political fallout
In a video posted on his twitter timeline, he said,“This is a conspiracy against Hindus by Muslims who want to keep us down,” he said and added, “Jai Shri Ram. In our new Ram temple, such obscene sculptures will not be there.” Abhijit mocked how Indians who earlier accepted sexuality and embraced it, now due to the influence of rulers from Abrahamic religions, are reluctant to accept our own culture.
In a subsequent tweet, he clarified that the comments made by him were a part of a joke. “Jokes aside this temple is just mind-blowing. The sculptures are exquisite & it has a great sense of symmetry & gravitas,” he said.
Another case was filed against him for a twitter exchange where he joked on God Jagannath.
The actual reason behind the arrest might not be him offending sentiments of Odisha people but the fallout of former Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MP Baijayant Panda with Odisha CM. Just before the turn of events leading to Abhijit Iyer’s arrest, MP Baijayant and the journalist has gone on a chopper ride. The first case was filed against Baijayant for flying the chopper on “no-fly zone”, which was cleared by civil aviation authority later. Then the case was filed on Abhijit for his joke.
The arrest is unsettling, to say the least
The arrest, Odisha government autocratic attitude and Supreme Court’s comment on the arrest are disturbing precedents and show how fragile is the right of an Indian citizen to express himself/herself on social media. The Supreme Court on October 4 rejected the Abhijit Iyer-Mitra’s bail plea; a bench of CJI Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph said that he is inciting religious feelings with his comments and asked how he is entitled to a bail. After going through the journalist’s tweets and other materials, the bench was of the view that there was nothing wrong with the charges that had been slapped against him and dismissed his bail petition by saying that he was not entitled to it.
In Pakistan, recently we observed the apex court standing with a victim of the infamous blasphemous law of the country and ordered her release and revoked her death sentence, while in our country a satire is seen as inciting religious hatred and dividing the society that too by the apex court.
Despite forgiveness from Odisha assembly, Abhijit’s freedom finally lies in the hand of the court.
Also read: Journalist Arrested For Satire On Konark Temple, Odisha Govt Passes Privilege Motion Demanding Action