Most Indians are proud of their country. They believe it is a free, tolerant,liberal country, think the Constitution guarantees free speech and the law and order machinery keeps the citizens safe. Even many abroad feel the same.
But the truth is far removed from this imaginary liberal India.
Most often Indians elect parties with intolerant majoritarian and undemocratic ideologies to run the governments. There is a competition among political parties to use religion, caste, nationalistic icons and cultural myths to mobilise voters and to cultivate hate. Questioning any of these with reason become blasphemous. Such free speech invites attack not only from goons but also from law and order machinery.
See what happened to college professor when he questioned why Shivaji, a (Hindu) cultural icon in some parts of India and a former king , is having two birthday celebrations, one in February and other in March. He was physically attacked by his students and fellow professors and later arrested by the Police. He was denied bail because the court believed his life is at risk outside the jail. I am sure the Police will not be inclined to arrest those who assaulted the professor.
Questioning why Chhatrapati Shivaji’s birthday is celebrated twice a year has landed a Khopoli professor in trouble. Sunil Waghmare (38) who is head of department, commerce, at KMC College, Khalapur, in Raigad district was arrested on Thursday after he made the comment on his WhatsApp group. Owing to the lack of clarity on the Maratha warrior king’s exact date of birth, the occasion is celebrated twice a year, in February and March. This year, the second celebration was on March 15, Wednesday, which is when Waghmare made the comment late at night around 11.30 during a conversation on WhatsApp. He was instantly reprimanded by the group admin Amol Nagargoje, who also teaches in the same college. Later that night, Nagargoje deleted the group altogether.
News about the conversation, however, had spread through the college by the next day. Waghmare was attacked by students and professors and the police rushed to the campus to shield him.
Later, however, they arrested him. A case has been registered against Waghmare under Section 295a (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code.
Prof Nagargoje, who had registered a complaint against Waghmare, said, “He is senior faculty and I know him since 2012. That night on WhatsApp, when he made the comment, I asked him to take back his words but he refused. So, I decided to delete the group altogether. On Friday, when I was in the staff room, I got to know that he was attacked. Later, because I was the admin of the group, I was asked by the police to register the complaint.” The police have seized the phones of both Waghmare and Nagargoje. “We have sealed the phones and are probing the case currently,” said inspector Sawata Shinde of Khopoli Police Station.
On Saturday, Waghmare was produced before the court of the Judicial Magistrate first class where he was remanded in judicial custody. His lawyer applied for bail, but the bail application was rejected citing life-risk outside jail.
India is fast becoming a society that cannot tolerate free speech and dissent.