Until the day before, Ambikesh Mahapatra spent a large part of his day administering to the educational needs of students of Chemistry. He did this in his capacity as professor at Jadavpur University in Kolkata. Yesterday found him behind bars.
This, apparently, was his crime: ‘Sending e-mails that show West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, former railway minister Dinesh Trivedi, and current railway minister Mukul Roy in a poor light’. A neighbour of his was also reportedly arrested and both men charged with sections of the IT Act.
Mahapatra shared the cartoon featuring Banerjee with a number of acquaintances before uploading it to his Facebook page. For this, the chief minister saw fit to arrest him, while members of her party, the Trinamool Congress, heckled the professor and attacked him at his residence the night before.
Let us, at this point, put forth a couple of simple questions: What happened to our right to free speech? Since when was criticising someone grounds for arrest? Is Mamata Banerjee so insecure about her position that dissent in any form begins to take on the guise of a threat? Are cartoonists — among the last brave souls still walking where few members of the media tread these days — now supposed to toe the line drawn by whoever happens to be in power? And, didn’t the Emergency end in 1977?
It appears that precious little can now be said, done, or discussed, without it attracting the ire of some political party or group with a vested interest of some sort. Living in this sort of environment can be catastrophic not just for artists, but for the spirit of democracy in which our founding fathers created an independent India. If you think that sounds dramatic, it’s because it is. A fundamental right is at stake.