Liberty Is Penalized, Violence Goes Untouched

In a state where the culprits of an infamous Pehlu Khan lynching case went unpunished, an actress Payal Rohatgi has been thrown behind bars for exercising her right to freedom of expression.

In a state where the culprits of an infamous Pehlu Khan lynching case went unpunished, an actress Payal Rohatgi has been thrown behind bars for exercising her right to freedom of expression.
In a state where the culprits of an infamous Pehlu Khan lynching case went unpunished, an actress Payal Rohatgi has been thrown behind bars for exercising her right to freedom of expression.

George Orwell famously said, “If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

In a state where the culprits of an infamous lynching case went unpunished, an actress has been thrown behind bars for exercising her right to freedom of expression. Welcome to Rajasthan, currently under the Congress, the party whose leaders claim to be the champions of liberty.

When Khan was lynched, Rajasthan was ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is pally with the saffron cowboys.

The Rajasthan Police detained film actress Payal Rohatgi from her Ahmedabad residence for interrogation for allegedly posting content against the Nehru-Gandhi family on the social media on October 10. She has been booked by the Bundi police under the IT Act for the allegedly maligning Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, and other members of the family.

The same police force, however, had failed to bring the killers of Pehlu Khan to justice a few months ago, and that too in the case whose video clippings were available and which had triggered a nationwide outrage. “The Alwar court acquitted all six lynching accused giving them benefit of doubt,” Additional Public Prosecutor Yogendra Khatana was quoted as saying by India Today on August 14 this year.

Khan, his two sons, and four others were intercepted and attacked on their way to Haryana’s Nuh on April 1, 2017, by a mob of saffron cowboys on the Jaipur-Delhi highway. They were suspected of cow smuggling. Khan’s injuries proved to be fatal.

“Police had earlier given a clean chit to all six people accused of lynching Pehlu Khan. The police’s decision was reportedly based on statements of the staff of a cow shelter and mobile phone records,” a report by India Today said. While the accused walked free, adding salt to the wounds to the Khan family, his sons Irsad (25) and Arif (22) were booked under Sections 5, 8 and 9 of the Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 1995. Even the victim, Khan, was not spared; he too was booked under another Section of the same Act.

When Khan was lynched, Rajasthan was ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is pally with the saffron cowboys. But for the last one year, the state is under the Congress. So, why didn’t Khan get justice? And why does an actress get harassed for free speech?

George Orwell famously said, “If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

This is not the first time that free speech was penalized while violence was tolerated. In April 2017, Rajput Karni Sena workers went on a rampage at the sets of filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati in Jaipur. They slapped and thrashed Bhansali. A video, which went viral, showed the attackers vandalizing the set, damaging cameras, and other equipment, shouting slogans, and spewing profanities in Hindi. All this because the hooligans had seen a teaser of the film and concluded that it was offensive to them.

The attack was so brazen that even the sanskari Pahlaj Nihalani, no champion of artistic freedom, condemned the incident. At that time, he was chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification chairman. He called for stringent action against the goons: “If the government doesn’t wake up now and take strict measures against such happenings, the Indian cinema industry will begin to wither. People should have the patience to wait and judge a film by watching the whole film rather than creating a ruckus by merely watching the teaser.”

Was any action taken against the vandals? No. Bhansali, however, had to face bans by several state governments and had to seek the assistance of the judiciary to get his movie released.

Our political and thought leaders should ponder over a pertinent question: can we be genuinely called the world’s largest democracy when violence is tolerated and free speech is not? Somebody expressing themselves on celluloid can be beaten, abused, threatened, maligned, and forced to incur financial losses—without justice and recompense. In fact, they also have to apologize for the ‘crimes’ of expressing themselves in movies, books, etc. On the other hand, the thugs who assault him go unpunished. Can it be a democracy when the victim is a villain and the villain, hero?

Similarly, in the case of Rohatgi, her comments, even if some people found this offensive, did not trigger a riot or harmed anybody. Does she deserve to be behind bars just because somebody didn’t like her views? George Orwell famously said, “If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

Obviously, the Nehru-Gandhi family and their toadies don’t want to hear what Rohatgi said, but shouldn’t she should have the right to say so? What does the great liberal Shashi Tharoor have to say about this? And P. Chidambaram, who has been making noises about liberty these days? Notice these days, not when he was in office.

Will they speak up for Rohatgi?

Note:
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.

Ravi Shanker Kapoor

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4 COMMENTS

  1. this has nothing to do with pehlu khan or payal rohtagi…violence is the standard operating procedures of our politicians..since independence…they got to power and stayed there by inducing fear and intimidating their opponents… they are aided by the police and judiciary..so why would they want police prevent violence or the judiciary to be reformed? they would lose their only weapon… our politicians have nothing to offer but violence…modi and yogi can fix this…but it would mean well planned and orchestrated war effort to neutralise the criminal elements in the police and judiciary…

  2. Thank you for the article Mr Kapoor. There is some clarificationa I would like PGurus to put out. Are deceased public personalities included within the ambit of defamation under Indian Law? And to what extent? If the IT Act protects that category does the IPC do so as well? If there is a contradiction between the IPC and a special legislation which will prevail? What is the Law in other open societies in this regard? If the Law is maliciously invoked what is the liability of the Executive? An informed discussion on these questions would be welcome as one cannot hope for such a discussion in the rest of the media.

  3. Violence goes untouched???!!!

    Lynching of one Heartless Slaughterer is VIOLENCE???!!!

    What about the Transportation of 100 cattle in Trucks that could hardly contain 50??? Human compassion???

    Cows meant for slaughter in Bangladesh or Kerala are transported for days (or even weeks) without Food & Water. Does this Author see no Violence in such inhuman acts?

    Has this author ever witnessed how animals are slaughtered in Slaughter Houses? HOT SATURATED STEAM IS FLOWN ON THEIR BODY SKIN TO RETRIEVE HIGH QUALITY LEATHER – EVEN WHEN THE VICTIM IS LIVE – UNDERGOING EXCRUCIATING PAIN.

    If the author wants to fight for Payal’s Liberty, Let him

    But let him not equate the lynchings of Pehlu Khans to VIOLENCE

    • Mr Iyer, you may like to reread your comment. Your commendable compassion for Gowmata cannot possibly blind you to the violence in lynching a human being. Such human beings have to be dealt with by the law and you and I should work for a society that will ensure that the law deals with them.

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