Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Lesson: disagree and be damned

In Bangkok, a woman was forced to grovel in public before a portrait of the late Thai king on Monday after allegedly posting online remarks insulting his son. Her humiliation outside a police station on the holiday island of Koh Samui came as mobs of Thai royalists called for those accused of disloyalty to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej to be punished.

In Calcutta, a hoarding was hung outside a university student's house in Dum Dum with her picture and excerpts of Facebook posts where she had complained about the waste of public money in the state-sponsored Puja procession on Red Road on Friday.

"We condemn your posts," the banner signed by an unknown citizens' forum said. A group of women stormed her house, threatened her family and demanded a public apology.
The hoarding in Dum Dum has since been pulled down. The myriad questions it raised remain: in the mind of the computer science and engineering student and in many others across the city.
Is it a crime to ask questions?

Do I not have the right to disagree?
Will I be punished if I protest?
On Monday, she penned her thoughts for Metro.

On October 14 (Friday), I had posted my view in the open forum of Facebook criticising the Durga procession conducted by the state government, draining the taxpayer's money.
I thought at a time the state was reeling under unemployment, the wastage of public money was insensible.
And then it was equated with the Rio Carnival. I protested.

On the morning of October 16 (Sunday), I found a hoarding with my Facebook posts and my photo hanging near my home. The objective was clear: to humiliate me.
A few women workers of the ruling party then came to my home to physically heckle me and they threatened me and asked me to publicly apologise for my Facebook posts.
I refused. I fought back by refusing to apologise.

My experience reminded me of what had happened in Mumbai in November 2012.
In November 2012, we all had seen how two girls in Mumbai were arrested because they had dared to question on social media the shutdown forced on the city by the death of Shiv Shena chief Bal Thackeray.
Mumbai had shut down then. A part of Calcutta had to be shut down on Friday because of the Red Road procession.
Under Article 19 (1) (a) of our Constitution, freedom of speech is a guaranteed fundamental right. But who cares?
Although I was not arrested, the harassment was no less frustrating. Incidents like these make us forget that we are living in a democracy, not a dictatorship.

I am astonished and also worried about this state of affairs because the generation after us will face a greater problem if this kind of oppression persists. The state will suffer if you don't allow protests.
My question is simple: has the right to dissent been banned in Bengal? Is disagreeing with the political system a crime?
Inability to accept criticism borders on fascism.

I am scared that those days are not far away when the free movement of a common protester will be restricted. And the harassment faced by Ambikesh Mahapatra (the JU professor arrested for circulating an Internet joke on the chief minister), Taniya Bhardwaj (the Presidency student branded a Maoist for questioning the chief minister at a public forum) and Shiladitya Chaudhuri (the farmer who had protested the rise in fertiliser prices) will be the norm in Bengal.
Being a responsible citizen of state I have every right to protest against anything I perceive to be wrong, even if it is perpetrated by the state.

Industry is in bad shape in our state and young people are jobless.
I protested because given the critical financial situation of the state, I thought it was not wise to waste money.
Protest is difficult in such a state. Even more so for a woman.
I saw the film Pink. It showed how difficult it is for a woman to question the system.
I merely voiced an opinion on my Facebook page and ended up being harassed by the system.
The harassment has done one good, though. It has helped me firm my resolve to protest - yes, on every possible forum - and also invite my young friends to join in.
What is your message for this young woman? Tell ttmetro@abpmail.com

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