• Prof Ilaiah and the Muzzling of Freedom of Speech: A Timeline of Events

    Lourdes M Supriya

    December 5, 2017

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Image Courtesy: The Hindu

    On 10th September, 2017, various Arya Vysya organisations took to the streets in Hyderabad, and other places in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, to demand the immediate withdrawal of a booklet written by Prof Kancha Ilaiah. According to reports, the Arya Vysya associations allege that the “title of the book and some of its contents [were] derogatory and demeaning to their community”. The next day, on receiving threats from unknown sources, Ilaiah filed a police complaint at the Osmania University police station.

    The booklet in question, ‘Samajik Smugglurlu Komatullu’ or ‘Vysyas are Social Smugglers’, is actually a translation of a chapter (titled ‘Social Smuggler’) from one of his earlier books, Post-Hindu India, which was originally published in English in 2009. 

    The protests against Prof. Ilaiah—who is currently the Director at Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy (CSSEIP) at Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad—have only intensified since then, with no signs of support from the state or Central governments.

    On 18 September 2017, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) MP TG Venkatesh addressed a press conference, and allegedly took out a “fatwa” against Prof Ilaiah, saying that he would kill the academician. Following this threat, Prof Ilaiah lodged a police complaint. Immediately after this, on 19 September, the CID filed a case against Prof Ilaiah under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code (‘Promoting enmity between different groups based on religion, place and through other means’). Barely a day later, on 21 September 2017, the Telangana Home Minister, Naini Narshimha Reddy, also joined the chorus of voices against Ilaiah, saying that legal action would be taken against Ilaiah in the case registered against him. 

    On 23 September, 2017, Prof Ilaiah’s vehicle was attacked by a mob in Ambedkar centre in Parkal, Warangal. Prof Ilaiah was on his way back from Bhupalpally, where he had gone to attend a T-MASS (Telangana Mass and Social Organisations Forum) meeting. Following the attack, Prof Ilaiah placed himself under house arrest till 4 October.

    In yet another shocking development, the Malkajgiri police of Rachakonda (Hyderabad) filed a criminal case against Prof Ilaiah after a 22-year old approached a local court. The case charged him under sections 153A (promoting enmity between groups based on religion), 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national intetgration), and 295A (acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class) of the IPC. 

    On 15 October 2017, the Supreme Court showed a ray of hope when it refused to ban Prof Ilaiah’s book. Responding to a PIL filed by advocate K V Veeranjaneyalu, the SC took out a two-page order dismissing the petition, saying “It is not up to the Supreme Court to use its powers to ban books, which are a free expression of a writer’s thoughts and feelings about the society and world he lives in.” The order is especially relevant in the atmosphere of increasing intolerance that the country seems to be sinking into. In another welcome development, on 27 October 2017, the Hyderabad High Court refused to direct the Andhra Pradesh police to stop Prof Ilaiah from travelling to Vijaywada for a meeting that was being organised by the Samajika Joint Action Committee of Andhra Pradesh. The meeting was meant to protest against the curbing of freedom of speech and express, and to extend solidarity to Prof Ilaiah. The HC was hearing a petition filed by the Arya Vysya Sangham.

    However, it was a short lived victory for those supporting Prof Ilaiah and the right to freedom of speech and expression. Despite the HC order, Prof Ilaiah was placed under house arrest the very next day, on 28 October 2017, by the Hyderabad police. In their defence, the police had served a notice to him on the previous day itself, informing him “that there is no permission for the public meeting in Vijayawada as prohibitory orders were in force in the city."

    Just over a month later, in another shocking move, Prof Ilaiah was detailed and sent back to Hyderabad by the local police of Khammam, on 3 December 2017. Prof Ilaiah was in the city to attend a state conference organised by the Goat and Sheep Rearers Association. This recent police action resulted in widespread outrage from a “a host of leaders representing various mass organisations, who described it as an attempt by the State to “gag” freedom of expression.” It was especially uncalled for because the event wasn’t meant to be political in nature and was completely unrelated to the controvery surrounding Prof Ilaiah. The police detained him on the grounds that his presence could result in a law and order problem, and trigger protests from the Arya Vysya community. 

    One is left to wonder whether to laugh or be outraged. The protesting Arya Vysya associations have repeatedly shown their propensity for violence, right from the 10 September protests where they burnt Ilaiah’s effigies, to the stone pelting that they subjected him to at Warangal. Instead of taking measures to control the protesters, the police chose to detain Prof Ilaiah, effectively muzzling his freedom of speech. Nobody is asking the Arya Vysya associations to not protest; it is their right. Making sure that the protests don’t turn violent, that is the police’s responsibility. Clearly, the police thought it more convenient on impinge on Prof Ilaiah’s fundamental right rather than doing their duty.

     

    Lourdes M Supriya is part of the editorial collective of Indian Writers' Forum

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