Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.
I often call Uttar Pradesh, the biggest state by population in India ( over 200 million ) as Ulta Pradesh ( the upside downstate ), or Alice’s Wonderland.
A proof of this characterization is what happened in the Azamgarh district recently. A young Muslim cleric, Yasir Akhtar, posted on his Facebook page that the citizens of Gaza have bravely resisted the Israeli attacks, and coming Friday Palestinian flags should be put up on homes and vehicles. For doing this, he was furiously trolled on social media denouncing him as a traitor and anti-national, and he was arrested by the Azamgarh police early morning on 20th May and jailed.
The young man later claimed that he had only asked people in Gaza to hoist the Palestinian flag on Friday in their homes and vehicles, not people of India, and he made this clarification in a second post.
But supposing he intended his appeal for Azamgarh Muslims or the entire Indian Muslims. How is that an offense? Which provision of the Indian Penal Code or other statute does it violate? Obviously none. The man had not spoken against Hindus or any religious community, caste, or sect in India to attract sections 153A or 295A IPC. How is speaking against Israel an offense in India? Is India not a free democratic country with freedom of speech and expression a guaranteed right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution?
The Senior Superintendant of Police, Azamgarh, said that such an appeal could have led to violence. But how will hoisting of Palestinian flags, or an appeal to hoist them, lead to violence? A Palestinian flag is not a Pakistani flag, whose hoisting may provoke violence. Most people in India would not even recognize it.
But everything is possible in Ulta Pradesh, where a Mad Hatter’s Party seems to be going on.
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