For a country that has always been very particular about the Right to Freedom of religion, a rather disturbing pattern has set in whereby state governments seem to be taking action against shops and establishments wearing seemingly Hindu indicators based on frivolous complaints by vigilantes on social media.
It all started with Jharkhand where a poor fruit vendor was targeted on social media because he had hanged banners reading written- “Vishwa Hindu Parishad ki anumodit Hindu fal Dukan (Hindu fruit shop approved by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad).”
A Twitter user, upset by the display of the fruit vendor’s Hindu identity, requested the Jharkhand Police to take action which did not waste a moment and Jamshedpur Police replied that it had taken cognizance of the matter and had the banners of concerned fruit shops removed.
Further, they also initiated preventive action against the concerned fruit vendor under Section 107 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
Section 107 of the Cr.P.C. is applicable when “imminent” breach of public peace is threatened. Such powers are to be exercised where the information received shows a strong probability of breach of public peace and not a bare possibility.
How did the poor fruit vendor writing “Hindu” outside his shop threaten the public peace, leave alone the question of creating a threat so imminent that it compelled Jamshedpur Police to take stern action against the concerned fruit-seller?
Isn’t it utterly ridiculous that Islamist supremacist slogans at Shaheen Bagh, “hum dekhenge” and other Hindu-hating slogans during the anti-CAA protests across India weren’t considered a threat to public peace even though they ultimately led to the deadly Northeast Delhi riots, but a poor fruit vendor mentioning his religion is considered actionable under Section 107 of the Cr.P.C.
But Jharkhand is not alone, and in the neighbouring state of Bihar itself, the Nitish Kumar government also seems to be pandering to Hinduphobia given that Assembly elections are around the corner.
In Nalanda, an FIR has been reportedly lodged upon a complaint over saffron flags at Hindu shops? The charges pressed under the FIR are
Sections 147 (rioting), 149 unlawful assembly), 188 (disobedience), 153A (promoting enmity between religions), 295A (malicious act to outrage religious feelings) of the IPC, and Section 66 of the IT Act.
Even the Nitish Kumar government cannot possibly explain how the “saffron” colour its of can outrage religious feelings, and how does it promote enmity. The last time we read the Constitution, Article 25 guaranteed the right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion.
Does the Indian State now consider a mere show of religious identity as outraging religious feelings and according to Bihar government, even Unlawful Assembly and rioting?
The same pattern also repeated in Telangana, after a Twitter user got particularly enraged by fruit vendors installing saffron flags in Hyderabad.
He tweeted, “This Has Started In HYDERABAD. Location Attapur | vegetables vendors Sanghis are installing saffron flags. We believe in ganga Jamuna Tehzeeb Action must be Taken who are trying to discriminate & Requesting People To #BoyCott @KTRTRS @hydcitypolice @TelanganaDGP @CPHydCity.”
Now we know that Article 25 of the Constitution has been probably replaced by “Ganga Janina Tahzeeb”, which does not offer the basic personal liberty to use saffron colour or to merely mention one’s Hindu identity, leave alone the question of asserting it.
Meanwhile, the Cyberabad Police tagged the Rajendranagar Police Station, but till now there is no update about the Telangana Police taking any action against the fruit vendors.
The abovementioned cases of the Bihar and Jharkhand Police taking stern action against fruit vendors and shops that mention their Hindu identity or even taken the slight liberty to unfurl saffron flags atop their establishments are highly disturbing.
Preventive action under Section 107 CrPC, criminal action under Sections 153A or 295A of the IPC are all provisions that deal with extreme communal provocations or blatant threats of communal violence.
Objectively speaking, the word “Hindu” or saffron flags shouldn’t outrage anyone’s religious sentiments. The State has no right to stifle free expression or abhor religious identity merely because certain overzealous activists file police complaints or go overboard on Twitter.
Bihar and Jharkhand governments must shed their prejudices, and stop demonising the word “Hindu” or the colour saffron for the heck of it.