Satire On Konark Temple; SC Says 'Your Comments Incite Religious Hatred' & Rejects Journalist's Bail Plea
The Supreme Court on Thursday, October 4 rejected the Abhijit Iyer-Mitra’s bail plea, who was earlier booked by the Odisha Police in Delhi for allegedly making derogatory comments on the Sun Temple in Konark. According to The Times Of India, 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.
Reportedly, after pursuing 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.
Journalist and commentator Abhijit Iyer-Mitra was briefly arrested by Odisha Police on September 20 and was granted bail by a Delhi court which asked Mitra to join the probe at Konark Police station by September 28. However, he didn’t join in the investigation alleging threat to his life. The case was registered against him under sections 295-A and 153-A of the Indian Penal Code. However, The Times Of India reported that Mitra was granted relief on a personal bond of Rs 1 lakh.
Why was the journalist arrested?
In the video, he can be heard saying, “See these sculptures…..Women with women, men with animals. Can this be a holy place? Not at all.”
“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.
Odisha 9: my special message to you from the Konark temple expressing my utter disgust at this monumental conspiracy against the Hindu Civilisation pic.twitter.com/wJeqZPHRDk
— Abhijit Iyer-Mitra (@Iyervval) September 16, 2018
According to Hindustan Times, 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. Reportedly, Mitra was arrested near Hazrat Nizamuddin in the national capital.
The Odisha Police also told the court that Mitra gave irresponsible remarks on social media with the intention of wounding religious feeling which might have resulted in communal friction. The police also added that the accused had tweeted against the people of Odisha.
Issue raised in Odisha Assembly
On Thursday, the matter was discussed in the Odisha Assembly. They moved a privilege motion demanding action against Mitra for hurting religious sentiments. As a result, a committee was formed by the assembly to investigate the matter, which is led by the leader of the opposition. A ruling party member also staged a ‘dharna’ in the assembly premises.
BJD MLA Sanjay Dasburma had said that the video is an insult to the state and its existence and that action should be taken against him, reported NDTV.
Congress Leader Narasingha Mishra said, “It hurts the sentiments of Odisha irrespective of party and religion. He says the art and sculpture are contrary to Hindu culture. This is unwarranted and condemnable.” He added that Mitra should be prosecuted and that the contents of the video are enough to prosecute him under the law.
People came to his support
Many people who thought that the action taken against satire was unreasonable came to his support with ‘#IStandWIthAbhijit’ hashtag on Twitter. The point being made is that the video is satirical in nature.
Historian Ram Chandra Guha also came in support of Abhijit and tweeted:
This is appalling. The archaic colonial laws that allow such arrests must be struck down. The Odisha Government must rise above such pettiness. The right to offend is fundamental to democracy. https://t.co/SjsDPWZ4VM
— Ramachandra Guha (@Ram_Guha) September 20, 2018
Odisha Chief Minister @Naveen_Odisha must stop police from harassing journalist Abhijit Iyer-Mitra (@Iyervval) over sarcastic comments on the Konark Temple. All charges should be dropped now. #IstandwithAbhijit https://t.co/2Qk1RqqaAW
— CPJ Asia (@CPJAsia) September 20, 2018
The Logical Indian Take
Viewed in black and white, both literally and figuratively, it is easy to crucify Abhijit Iyer-Mitra. After watching his video and reading his tweets, if one still doesn’t agree with his satire, it’s fine and one is entitled to his/her opinion, same as him. However, arresting someone for satire when elected representatives quite regularly make irresponsible comments and indulge in hate mongering is hypocritical, to say the least. Why does nobody hold the MPs and MLAs accountable with such alacrity? After all, the comments made by elected representatives have way more potential to sway people’s opinions. Also, the IPC sections invoked in this case and even our laws against sedition are a colonial legacy. Freedom fighters gave their lives in the hope that one day, in independent India, Indians will not have to face oppressive laws. Now, it is becoming a norm and the way to get political mileage by making frivolous complaints and invoking the very same IPC sections. If a law is being used without keeping in mind the spirit behind the law, then it is repugnant. The freedom of speech enshrined in the Constitution of India is not absolute. However, the fundamental question remains, where do we draw the line?