'Harsh language' online can now land you in Telangana jails: Critics hit out at CM KCR

Online abusers can be charged for criminal intimidation under the law, but critics say the move mainly protects KCR himself.
'Harsh language' online can now land you in Telangana jails: Critics hit out at CM KCR
'Harsh language' online can now land you in Telangana jails: Critics hit out at CM KCR
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Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao is known for having a low level of tolerance against his critics; whether it was his move to shut down ‘Dharna Chowk’ in Hyderabad, or being bullish that the state will construct a new Secretariat at the Bison Polo Ground in Secunderabad.

With politics heating up in the state which is due to go to the polls in the next year, KCR has also faced several people ‘defaming’ him online.

To counter this ‘political slandering’, KCR has approved a law on Thursday where people indulging in online abuse and using ‘harsh language’ can now be booked for criminal intimidation under Sections 506 and 507 of the Indian penal Code (IPC).

Additionally, such crimes will be considered as cognisable offences and will give the police a free hand to interrogate such persons without the court’s permission.

Many critics of the Chief Minister feel that the harsh move is in response to the growing amount of dissent he is facing in the state.

In November 2017, the Telangana police had arrested two youths for allegedly abusing CM Chandrasekar Rao in a video. 

In another incident in the same month, a TSRTC employee was suspended from service on the charge of 'misguiding the public’ as he reportedly took to Facebook and criticised the government’s policies.

While agreeing that there is a rise in distasteful mocking and ridiculing, political parties and activists are skeptical of the move, as it could be used indiscriminately against persons and groups who are critical about policies.

“Unfortunately, personal slandering is occupying the place of fair criticism, this can only be changed through moral education," Congress spokesperson Dr Dasoju Sravan Kumar feels.

However, he goes on to ask, "Who defines the abuse or accusation is also a big question, but in the name of these, if it (govt) tries to silence politically dissenting voices, it is unfair and unacceptable.”

Speaking to TNM, BJP spokesperson Krishna Sagar Rao said, "Slandering and foul language are not acceptable and have to be dealt within a legal framework, but it has to be remembered that cases can't stand without substantial evidences."

He added, "While we believe criticism should maintain decorum, crossing it should also be dealt in an acceptable framework. If the government tries to victimise people for silly reasons, it will undo the letter and spirit of democracy.”

Several activists and academics believe that this move can "terrorise" the people who are using alternative outlets like social media, to voice their concerns.

Speaking to reporters, Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJAC) Chairman, M Kodandaram, “It’s unfortunate that the government decided to impose more restrictions on freedom of expression in the state…that too on Republic Day. The government wants to target the leaders, who speak on behalf of the people.”

“Are we living in a democracy or a dictatorial dispensation? Or, are we living in Pakistan? Was it not the TRS leadership which engaged in abusive tirades against Congress party leaders in the name of Telangana agitation? Who is responsible for the downfall of values in politics? Is it not the TRS?” ex-MP and TPCC vice-president Ponnam Prabhakar asked.

Prof Surepally Sujatha, who is a Dalit activist, suggests that the government instead should try to understand why so many are voicing their concerns against the proposed move. 

She said "People have chosen social media over mainstream media as these news channels have failed to show their problems and the government doesn't want it to happen."

In fact, Sujatha, who is a professor at Satavahana University, Karimnagar also faced an online attack by right-wing trolls last month, when she was accused of being ‘anti-national’ and also insinuated that she is spreading naxalism in the varsity.

"The abuse has to be defined, otherwise it can end up in indiscriminate use of the law against political criticisers”, she added. 

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