Police complaints and arrests aside, the ruling party’s own fans are gaining notoriety for targeting dissent online.

Vulgar FB posts to political dissent How Telangana deals with people they dont like
news Dissent Thursday, November 16, 2017 - 16:05

"Hey KCR, you b*****d of the Nizams. Look at this video and tell how Nizams are great and in which way they are great. You were born to Nizams and that's the reason he's great for you and not for us."

This was the message posted on Facebook by Ramakrishna Akuthota, along with a video of Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao speaking about the Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan in the state's Legislative Assembly.

While Ramakrishna's post was undeniably vulgar, the people opposed to it decided to go the criminal law route to lodge their protest. Two police complaints were filed against him within a day of publishing that post. While one complaint was filed with the Chaderghat police in Hyderabad, another was filed at the Madannapet police station – both by local TRS leaders.

"We have forwarded the case to the cyber crime branch of the Central Crime Station (CCS). They will look into the complaint and decide the future course of action," SHO Dharavath Nagesh from the Madannapet police station told TNM.

Considering these cases come in the wake of the arrest last week of two youngsters, after they allegedly abused the Chief Minister in a video on Facebook, there are serious questions about the way the state machinery and its supporters deals with vulgar comments and personal attacks.

Critics say that instead of using criminal proceedings, they should be dealt with using civil defamation laws.

“While defamation is a criminal offence in India, it is not right to arrest someone for a publishing something on Facebook, or sharing a satirical video or any such similar act,” a Hyderabad-based lawyer points out. 

Curbing dissent

It’s not just vulgar comments and personal attacks though. The state government is no stranger to trying to curb dissent online, especially on social media.

Last month, a conductor of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) was suspended from service for posting comments on social media against KCR.

"Our existing uniform is in pathetic condition and it is embarrassing to wear it. I highlighted the working conditions and said our health is being put to risk, while the TSRTC is only concerned about profits and not the welfare of employees. I have written letters to both the CM and the Transport minister. Only after getting no response did I post the issues on Facebook. I addressed the CM respectfully, calling him Anna and Ayya," the conductor told media persons.

Of late, KCR has been bullish that the state government would not back down from its plan of constructing a new Secretariat at the Bison Polo Ground in Secunderabad.

After telling critics that they could "go to hell", he recently told the Legislative Assembly, "That is the TRS vision for Hyderabad, there is no proposal to withdraw. I am making it very clear.” 

KCR also famously shut down 'Dharna Chowk' near Indira Park in the heart of Hyderabad, which had been the main centre for thousands of protests by political parties, people's organisations, employees' unions, students' groups and others.

Read: Clashes erupt in Hyderabad's Indira Park following 'Capture Dharna Chowk' protests

No Freedom of Expression?

The current dispensation doesn’t have a great record when it comes to respecting the freedom of expression of the media either. In 2014, barely a few months into his tenure, KCR lashed out against two Telugu channels, TV9 and ABN, and threatened to "bury” them for offensive content.

"We will bury them some 10 km. We won't hesitate to break their neck and then throw them out. If they want to operate here, they should salute and respect the people of Telangana," KCR said at the time.

While ABN was held off the air for over a year, TV9 was blacklisted for close to half a year.

From media channels and physical locations, the guns now seem to have been turned on social media.

Legal case vs listening to critics

"The police usually act on legal advice, and for such political posts, cases are now mostly filed under Section 504 (Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace) of the IPC and Section 57 of the IT Act. If there is a religious undertone to it, then other sections are added," a police officer who wished to be anonymous said.

"While such things must be seen on a case-to-case basis, one must not be completely blind to critics and try to sew their mouth shut," remarks Jaya Vindhayala, Telangana General Secretary of the human rights body People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). Jaya herself was arrested by the police from her Hyderabad home in 2013 for posting "objectionable" comments on her Facebook account and booked under section 66A of the IT Act.

While the Supreme Court struck down the 'draconian' Section 66A in 2015, the arrests have not stopped.

"Arresting critics is the state's loss. It is a question of free speech, as we live in a secular and democratic country," Jaya says.

"While many times the language is vulgar and may warrant legal action, the state government must have a little more tolerance to criticism and understand the motive behind the person posting the content. The Chief Minister should reflect on what troubles the people so much that they air their grievances in this way," she adds.

Talking about the earlier regime and its history of curbing dissent during the Telangana agitation, Jaya says, "That was the situation back then, but being a CM now and a mature leader, KCR should set an example. He should be more tolerant and reflect on the people's woes before trying to shut them up."

Army of trolls

Despite this, the TRS' own fans are gaining notoriety for targeting any dissent on Facebook itself.

In January this year, KCR named an advocate called Rachana Reddy during the Assembly session and accused her of “speaking blatant lies” in court.

Rachana, a practising human rights lawyer, had irked KCR by taking up several cases of land acquisition issues in Telangana and fought against the state government.

Following this, supporters of the Chief Minister took to social media and began a campaign of slander and character assassination against Rachana.

It was reported at the time that three trolls – Aelikatte Shankar Rao, a former journalist who now runs a Facebook page and website called ‘Right Politics’, Srinivas Rao (alias Sawal Reddy) who runs the page ‘Point Blank’ and Sridevi Mantri – who are fans of KCR had acquired notoriety for attacking any political dissent.

 

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