West Bengal

Relief for professor

Print edition : April 03, 2015

Ambikesh Mahapatra. Photo: PTI

NEARLY three years after his arrest in April 2012 for forwarding an innocuous joke on West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Ambikesh Mahapatra received justice when the Calcutta High Court, on March 10, ordered the State to pay him Rs.50,000 as compensation. According to the court, Mahapatra’s human rights “were indeed violated by public servants”.

Mahapatra, a professor of chemistry at Jadavpur University, had forwarded a joke through email relating to Mamata’s removal of Dinesh Trivedi as Railway Minister and replacing him with Mukul Roy. The joke, which contained pictures of the three politicians, was a spoof on Satyajit Ray’s film “Sonar Kella”. Mahapatra was arrested for this and had to spend 16 hours in police custody. Before that he was beaten up by local Trinamool Congress supporters. Since he used the official email of the housing society where he lived to forward the joke, the septuagenarian secretary of the housing society, Subrata Sengupta, was also arrested.

Mahapatra was charged with outraging the modesty of a woman, defamation, and violation of some of the provisions of the Information Technology Act. Mamata Banerjee even tried to establish that the email was a plot to kill her. Despite the widespread outrage that the arrest prompted, the State government refused to withdraw the charges against Mahapatra. The case against him is still pending.

In August 2012, the West Bengal Human Rights Commission headed by retired Supreme Court Judge Asok Kumar Ganguly recommended a compensation of Rs.50,000 for Mahapatra and Sengupta. In a letter to the Commission, the State government denied that the arrest was a case of violation of human rights. Subsequently, Mahapatra filed a writ petition in the Calcutta High Court.

Speaking to the media after the judgment, Mahapatra said: “The court has upheld my right of freedom of expression. There was nothing in the cartoon for which I should have been arrested.”

Justice A.K. Ganguly described it as a “victory for democratic forces”, and said the right to dissent had been restored by the verdict.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

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