Popular rationalist and human rights activist Babu Gogineni has been booked by the Madhapur police in Hyderabad on Tuesday for ‘sedition’ and ‘hurting religious sentiments’, among other charges.
The case was registered after orders passed by the 25th Metropolitan Magistrate Court at Kukatpally.
The petitioner, Veera Narayana Chowdary, claimed that his religious sentiments were hurt after watching Babu’s earlier speeches, which prompted him to file the case.
The case was registered under Sections 121 (Waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the Government of India), 124a (Sedition), 153a (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion), 153b (Imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration), 292 (Obscenity), 293 (Sale, etc, of obscene objects to young person), 295-A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 406 (Criminal breach of trust), 420 (Cheating), 504 (Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace) and 505 (Statements conducing public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Babu was also booked under sections of the UIDAI Act for allegedly collecting and storing Aadhar details.
A contestant on the TV reality show Bigg Boss 2 Telugu, Babu is presently living in the Bigg Boss house.
Later on Tuesday, Veera Narayana Chowdary, along with others, participated in a 4-hour debate on Mahaa News where he talked about his case against Babu.
Mahaa News CEO Murthy made it clear that though it was not right to host a debate where Babu couldn’t defend himself, he still took it up as the case registered against Babu was under serious sections.
Speaking on the panel, Veera claimed that he had submitted video footage of Babu’s speeches criticising Hindu ‘traditions’ in speeches made abroad.
“Freedom of speech is there, but it should not hurt the sentiments of believers,” he claimed.
He also alleged that Babu Gogineni was not associated with Science for Society and the American Humanist Association, a claim which was denied by the founders of the first group in the same debate.
As far as the sedition case was concerned, Veera claimed that Babu agreed with alleged 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed’s view that India was indulging in ‘Water Terrorism’ against Pakistan and this was ‘seditious’ in nature.
The petitioner also claimed that Babu had disagreed with capital punishment for 26/11 accused Ajmal Kasab, for which he was immediately reproached, with panelists pointing out that it was a common demand by humanists to end capital punishment and not unique to Babu.
At this point, the anchor contended that he was also opposed to capital punishment from a human angle, but that does not mean that he is soft on terror or seditious.
When quizzed about the allegations pertaining to the UIDAI Act, Veera claimed that Babu Gogineni had collected Aadhar details of people who participated in an event in Visakhapatnam and charged money from those who wanted to attend the event.
The organisers of the event later called in to the debate and clarified that Babu was in no way involved in the planning of the event in general.
“There is an event organisation team which conducts the event where Babu was a guest. We never collected personal details of any person attending the event, until one day Babu received death threats online. The team then came to a collective conclusion to make ID proof mandatory, as rationalists are under threat in this country,” Viswanadh, who was part of the team, explained.
Viswanadh mentioned that Aadhar details were not compulsory. Driving license and other government IDs were also submitted as many opposed Aadhar card in the group, which were also accepted, he stated.
“The fees collected are used for providing accommodation and food for the participants only,” he clarified.
Speaking to TNM, Madhapur SHO R Kalinga Rao said, “We registered a case as it was a court order. The due process is that we usually ask for evidence from the petitioner and then get a legal opinion, before taking a statement from the accused.”
“In case the petitioner fails to submit satisfactory evidence, then we will proceed differently. In case petitioner does submit satisfactory evidence, then the accused (Babu) will need to give his statement to the police,” he added.
The police officer also said that the petitioner was yet to submit his evidence to them.
“Even if Babu is in the Bigg Boss house, the law of the land stands. There will be no exception. We will get more clarity in a week once the petitioner submits his evidence,” the police officer said.
Some rationalists allege that this was a targetted attack against a person from their community.
Speaking to TNM, Ramesh from the Jana Vignana Vedika, who was also part of the TV debate, said, “There is a larger issue at play. Looking at incidents from the murders of MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh, the message is clear that there is an organisational effort to discredit rationalists and their allies. The investigators also said that the same group was responsible for both these attacks.”
Jana Vignana Vedika is a rationalist organisation based in the Telugu states of Telangana and Andhra.
“It is also unfortunate that media outlets give such people publicity and hold long debates, sowing doubt in the minds of people. As rationalists, we are against harmful practices in every religion,” Ramesh said.
“While it is true that we do target superstition in the Hindu religion along with other psuedo-sciences like astrology, we must note that India is largely populated by Hindus. So it is only obvious that these issues will be highlighted more. However, they appear to be sending a message that questioning their faith is an attack on religion,” he added.