In a controversial incident, a Facebook user from Kerala was arrested by the Pathanamthitta police last week based on a complaint filed by Aranmula MLA Veena George.
The CPI (M) MLA had filed the complaint alleging that the user, Sooraj Ilanthur, had published a defamatory post against her and insulted her based on her gender and religion. Following the complaint, the police arrested Sooraj and let him off on bail two days ago, on 9th June.
The post which was published by the user, who goes by the Facebook name BJP Ilanthur had the image of a damaged road and read like this -
"This is Pathanamthitta bus stand. Dear MLA Madam, it would be very helpful if you could look into all this after your beauty parlour trips and Orthodox Church feasts. You have the government's fancy cars to travel in. If not, there are the Orthodox Church’s vehicles or the Muthoot group's imported luxury cars in plenty for you. We poor people, who by mistake have voted for you, have no other way madam,"
Following the post, Veena filed a complaint alleging that the post was offensive on many levels - a) it was sexist in nature b) it instigated communal split by associating her with a specific denomination of the church, c) it made baseless allegations by linking her to a private bank.
Speaking to TNM Veena said, "Saying that I have time to visit beauty parlours is offensive to my identity as a woman. The post is alleging that women are only fit to look pretty and go to parlours and they are devoid of other skills. I am not the sort to go to parlours and making such statements is, according to me, offensive,"
Veena also alleged that the post deliberately tried to create communal disharmony amongst the people. "I am elected from a secular party and I work for all sections of the population, irrespective of their religion. So making such baseless claims about me attending feasts hosted by a certain denomination of the church and traveling in the church cars will create a 'religious split' in the minds of the readers. The post has also associated me with a rich private bank and stated that I used their luxury cars. This claims are without base and this is the reason I filed a complaint" she said.
Though he was let out on bail, Veena has received a lot of flak as the user was booked under IPC section 153 (wantonly give provocation with intent to riot) and IPC section 500 for defamation.
When asked if the charges were excessive, Veena said "This is for the courts to decide. I firmly believe that it was a sexist and offensive post,"
The MLA emphasised that she had filed the complaint not for the user questioning the merit of her activities, but for the baseless allegations.
"Everyone has the right to question what I have done in the capacity of an MLA. But even in this regard, the post is flawed as the bus stand does not come under my jurisdiction. It is a municipal bus stand and not the KSRTC one. The user conveniently put up a picture of the Municipal bus stand and said I was not doing anything about it. Despite this, in 2016, I had in fact made a submission regarding the condition of the bus stand. We also had a meeting with the minister and municipal chairperson regarding the same," Veena told TNM.
When TNM asked the police whether using IPC section 153 was excessive in nature, Pathanamthitta SP Hari Shankar said that the investigating officer was convinced that the charges would hold against the accused.
"The MLA gave a two page complaint. The sections were charged only as the investigator was convinced that they are necessary and will hold. We will also look at her allegations that it was a sexist attack and will add appropriate sections."
When TNM contacted the investigation officer, Pathanamthitta SI Biju, he said “We have sought legal opinion to check if the charges are maintainable. Secondly, the reference to religious denomination does not just begin and end with this post. We have had several minor issues with regard to vandalism between sects. Tearing flex boards of the other sect and displaying posters defaming other sects. We have been hearing such incidents after the Facebook post also. So considering this, we have charged the user under IPC section 153.”
He added that the FB user had no proof to back his allegations. "When we asked the accused, who is an employee at a private bank here, he clearly said that he has no details or proof to give regarding the allegations he has made in his post," he added.