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A scary story about being harassed by cops over a tweet in West Bengal

Indranil Roy, a veteran film journalist, apparently offended film star and TMC MP Dev with one simple tweet.

 |  Paradigm shift  |  10-minute read |   18-09-2018
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This is a scary story about you.

Before I tell the story, I want to rename you. Let's say your name is Anirban Ray. Assume that you are a Bengali middle-aged man, staying in a closely-knit south Kolkata neighbourhood.

Ten in the night is the best time to go to sleep for most Bengali “bhadralok” (decent people). 11pm is considered late.

But it is around this time when your story begins.

Around 11pm, the police knock on your door. The officer comes dressed in his official uniform. The police-van driver parks the vehicle outside your home and walks up the stairs where your parents, both senior citizens, are asleep. They ring the doorbell, twice.

When a sleepy-eyed Anirban's mother opens the door, they politely ask, "Aashte pari?" (May we come in?)

bengal-police_091718092405.jpgAround 11pm, the police knock on your door. (Representaional image/Reuters)

The para (neighbourhood) is awake by now. Lights are being switched on in the neighbouring households because "Paray police eseche" (the police have come to the neighbourhood). As the officer stands in the middle of your living room in his white uniform and cap, your father does most of the talking. Your mother remains frozen in one corner of your living room, dumbfounded.

The cop (a sub-inspector) is polite, but stern. The conversation begins:

"Anirban Ray bari aachen?" (Is Anirban Ray at home?)

"Na, amar chele barite nei. Keno bolun to?" (No, my son is not at home. Can you tell me why you are looking for him?)

"Onar naame report hoyechhe. Thanay aashte hobe onake." (There's a complaint against him. He has to report to the police station.)

"Aaj raat hoye geche. Kaal aashle hobe?" (It's too late tonight, can he come tomorrow?)

"Summons (an official letter directing an accused person to report to the police station) ta rekhe gelam. Kalke Regent Park thanay aashte bolben." (I am leaving the "Summons" with you. Ask him to come to Regent Park police station tomorrow).

He takes a step forward and places a sealed envelope on the low glass centre table.

He doesn’t answer any other question. Neither do they drink the glass of water offered to them. They get up and walk out of the door in a huff. By this time, some of the neighbours are in the veranda, trying to figure out "Paray police kano esheche?" (Why have the police visited the neighbourhood?)

Anirban (you) had just sat down for bhog when the phone rings.

You had gone to attend Ganapati Aarti at a friend's place nearby. You aren’t perturbed when you see your mother's name flash on the screen. It's normal for her to call you at that time. All that changes when you pick up the call.

Your mother, already unwell, sounds alarmed and tense on the phone.

"The police had come home. Just now. What have you done?"

It takes you at least five minutes to allay your parents' fears that you haven't done anything wrong. You ask your mother not to panic. Once her fears were allayed, you ask her to open the envelope and send you a picture of the letter.

Your mother sends the picture on your mobile within the next five minutes. It is a "Summons" from the police station after a police complaint was filed against you.

Your parents are unable to sleep that night. You return home quickly, go to their room and speak with them. You tell them that you don't have any freaking clue what crime you could have done to force a police officer to come to your home in front of the entire sleepy neighbourhood.

Next day, around 12pm, you arrive at the police station, accompanied by your friend, who is a lawyer. The sub-inspector is courteous. He asks you to sit down, offers you tea and biscuits (you are too tense to touch it) and shows you the complaint.

"Aashun, aapnake bujhiye di" (Come, let me explain), the police officer says in a typical Bengali “Dada” style.

You are told that there are several criminal charges against you under the Indian Technology Act and a couple under the Indian Penal Code. One of the charges is non-bailable, generally applied to hardened criminals.

"What has he done to warrant these charges?" Your friend asks the police officer; you are too shocked to speak.

"Yes, we are going to interrogate him and explain the charges against him," the police officer said, answering your friend's question while looking at you.

Then Mr Police Inspector proceeds to tell you your crime.

"Dear Mr Anirban, you have tweeted against Superstar Swapan. He is a Member of Parliament of the ruling party in West Bengal."

You take a hard look at the complaint — yes, Superstar Swapan's name is mentioned in the complaint letter.

The complaint says that you tweeted that his film is a copy of a Pakistani film.

Wait? All this, just for a tweet?

Are you kidding me?

You suddenly get your voice back.

"But, Mr Inspector. I had referred the tweet from Wikipedia. I even mentioned my source. I added a subsequent tweet mentioning that it is from Wikipedia. It was a, just a harmless tweet. I mean sir, it is a tweet. A tweet is, sir, a tweet. I am not posting it myself, I tweeted when I found the same mentioned on Wikipedia...."

"Stop! Stop! Thanks. Let me hear you properly."

You calm yourself down and explain to the police officer that what you tweeted — that Swapan Superstar's film is apparently a copy from a Pakistani film — was only after you found a reference on Wikipedia. Immediately, some Twitters users replied to you — and some tried to troll you.

You had a Twitter war with Superstar Swapan's supporters. They accused you of editing Wikipedia, to which you posted screenshots of IP addresses which did edit the Wikipedia page.

The trolls vanished.

You finally forgot about it and went to your friend's house for Ganapati Puja and dinner.

Mr Inspector then asks you to write the entire incident down and informs you that this would be regarded as your statement under The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC ). Then he extends his hand. As you approach to shake it, he moves his hand and says, "Hand me over your phones. Both your iPhones. Yes...yes, unlock them first."

By the time your statement is handed over to the police, it is 4pm. Your phones are handed back to you — but your ordeal isn't over.

"The Joint Commissioner wants to meet you. Please proceed to his chamber," the inspector tells you.

As you enter the large chamber at the police headquarters, you find the Joint Commissioner sitting on his chair, stone-faced.

"You must be careful henceforth, Mr Anirban. This is not the way to conduct yourself," he says. He proceeds to say more about how to be a responsible citizen of the country.

It is a brief meeting but by the time you finally exit the police station, it is way past six in the evening. You have spent almost six hours with the police.

All this, just for a tweet.

But…

You don't have a copy of the FIR with you. You stare at a long drawn-out court battle with the possibility of presenting a bail application before the court as one of the charges levelled against you is non-bailable.

***

Was the story scary? Yes? Do you think it can happen in real life? No?

Okay, let me tell you a chain of incidents that happened in Kolkata last Friday.

Here's a news report about the incident but this is an actual blow-by-blow account of what really happened to Indranil Roy.

Here's the cast of the tale:

Mr Anirban Ray: Indranil Roy, a veteran film journalist. He has worked with reputed publications like Filmfare, DNA and Anandabazar Patrika for more than 12 years. He is currently working with another leading Bengali daily.

Superstar Swapan: Dev (aka Deepak Adhikary), a Trinamool Congress (TMC) Member of Parliament (MP) from Ghatal Constituency. He is considered a big star in Bengal and currently, the only one among present-day Bengali stars to hold such high public office.

Anirban's friend with whom he was having dinner when the police came for him: Jisshu Sengupta. He has acted in several super-hit Bollywood and Bengali films. He is also considered a star in Bengal.

Here is the tweet for which a non-bailable IPC section was registered against Indranil along with other charges under the IT Act.

The rest of the tweets are also available on his timeline.

indro_091718092723.jpgIndranil Roy, a veteran film journalist, apparently hounded by the state. (Photo: Facebook/Indranil Roy)

Though Indranil is still in a fix about how a simple tweet could land him in so much trouble, his journalist friends are not surprised at all.

If you ask me, I am not very surprised.

The West Bengal police seem to be taking trivial online activity a bit too seriously. So much so that intimidation by the police for trivial social media posts is not a rarity in West Bengal anymore. In fact, even forwarding emails have been deemed a crime. Don't believe me?

Here are a few examples.

— In 2012, a year after the TMC assumed power in West Bengal, a Jadavpur University professor named Dr Ambikesh Mahapatra (and his neighbour) were arrested because he dared to forward an attachment over email to his friends. He had just forwarded an email that contained a cartoon criticising the state government. The professor moved The Human Rights Commission with his grievance which ordered compensation of Rs 50,000 to be paid to him. Believe it or not, the West Bengal government ignored the order. The professor then knocked on the doors of the Calcutta High Court, which ordered an additional Rs 25,000 to be paid for legal expenses too. Yes, all that harassment just for forwarding an email. Here's a report, take a look.

— In 2016, a man was arrested for commenting on Facebook. He criticised a local leader. The said leader then lodged a complaint against him at the police station. The police acted swiftly and took the man in custody. Here's a report.

— Last year, in 2017, two middle-class civilians were arrested by the police because they dared to put up a Facebook status message, criticising the traffic restrictions of a locality in north Bengal during Durga Puja. The posts gathered only 60-odd likes, some shares and comments. However, they were promptly called to the police station — and arrested. Here's the report.

dev_091718092855.jpgDev, a major Bengali film star and a TMC MP. (Photo: Indiatoday.in)

Now, film criticism and film-related rumours, gossip as well, are regarded as mainstream journalism in most countries of the world. Social media, in fact, thrives on such gossip and never restricts such content.

In India, the first film periodical "exclusively devoted to cinema" was established in India in 1924, with the Gujarati magazine Mauj Majah by JK Dwivedi. Film criticism and commentary became mainstream ever since FilmIndia, an English monthly film magazine, was started by Baburao Patel in 1935, who was reportedly so powerful that he was known to make or break film careers with a single stroke of his pen. In Bengal, the trend of film critiques started even earlier, in 1930, with the Bengali magazine Bioscope, published by Sailajananda Mukherjee.

But even if we ignore the golden history of film journalism in India, after what happened to Indranil, one really cannot say for sure whether West Bengal is a part of India, an India which is about freedom of speech and expression.

But this is all I shall say now.

After all, I do not want my parents to wake up to the sound of the doorbell at 11pm tomorrow, as two policemen arrive at my home, causing a stir in my sleepy para.

Also read: Why Right may be wrong on Twitter

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