Another Individual Faces a Police Complaint for Merely Sharing a Cartoon in West Bengal, India


Less than a year after Professor Ambikesh Mahapatra and Subrata Sengupta were assaulted and arrested for emailing a very tame cartoon of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, another individual has been targeted for merely sharing a cartoon about the Chief Minister.  Indian media report that on Friday, January 18, 2013, (or Thursday, according to The Hindu) a police complaint was filed against sophomore college student Ramnayan Chowdhury for sharing a cartoon on his Facebook page.  But something may have changed in the last nine months.  While Chief Minister Banerjee and other prominent members of the Chief Minister’s party, the Trinamool Congress, were quick to defend the prosecution of Professor Mahapatra and Mr. Sengupta, this time around the calls for punishment from prominent Trinamool Congress members are curiously absent. 

Facebook photograph of Ramnayan Chowdhury

The complaint was filed with the Bidhannagar North Police Station against Ramnayan, a student at Bidhannagar College.  Ramnayan is an activist in the Communist Party of India-Marxist [CPI(M) or CPM].  His accuser, Subhakhon Dutta is an activist in the Trinamool Congress.  This complaint was filed after Ramnayan attempted to file a complaint against the members of a Trinamool Congress group after he was threatened with violence for daring to post a cartoon critical of Chief Minister Banerjee.  To date the police have taken no action against the individuals who threatened Ramnayan.   

The cartoon Ramnayan posted includes commentary and caricatures of Ms. Banerjee and cricket star Mahendra Singh Dhoni.  The commentary next to the cricketer pokes fun of his recent poor performances.    Next to the caricature of Ms. Banerjee, Ramnayan included the Bengali words, “Jawab mangoge to maobabdi kahenge… Shilpa mangoge to shila kikhaenge.”  That translates to, “If you ask for answers you will branded a Maoist … and if you want industries you will be shown only plaques.”  Otherwise put, the cartoon pokes fun of the Chief Minister’s economic policies and her treatment of a farmer at a public event. 

As noted in our previous alert  The Dangers of Merely Forwarding a Collage Cartoon in West Bengal, India, “On August 8th, Banerjee, after giving a speech and then asking if there were any questions, had farmer Shiladitya Chowdhury arrested for asking, ‘What are you doing for farmers?  Farmers are dying because they have no money.  Empty promises are not enough.’  Of course before Mamata ordered the police to arrest the farmer, she angrily accused him of being a Maoist.”  We also noted in that previous alert that, “In India accusing someone of being a Maoist is a very serious allegation.  India has endured homegrown Maoist terrorist attacks.  Making such a serious allegation is also, unfortunately, a convenient ploy to discredit one’s critics.”    

After Subrata and Ambikesh were roughed up, arrested and charged with crimes back in April of last year, Chief Minister Banerjee and some of her fellow party members publicly defended the actions of the police and prosecutors.  So far, no senior Trinamool Party member has spoken out in favor of treating Ramnayan like a criminal.  Chief Minister Banerjee has yet to make a public statement about the case against Ramnayan Chowdhury while Trinamool MP Derek O’Brien has tweeted his apparent wish for this case to disappear.  He tweeted, “A young over enthu TMC boy filed a general diary against cartoons he found offensive.  He obviously needs to tune up his sense of humour. … Internet skirmishes have to be settled on the Internet ….”

At Cartoonists Rights Network International, we certainly agree with Trinamool MP Derek O'Brian's tweet that this Internet conflict should be left on the Internet to be resolved.  When asked to comment on this police complaint, CRNI Executive Director stated, "We are all familiar with hack politicians trying to limit speech.  But once you start convicting people of their thoughts on the Internet, you begin to convict people for what they think, not necessarily what they do."  

To learn more about this police complaint, click on the January 18th articles Complaint against student for sharing Mamata cartoon by Shiv Sahay Singh for The Hindu, Police probe another Mamata cartoon in The Indian Express, and, Kolkata student booked for 'liking' anti-Didi toon in the Hindustan Times.