Editor and publisher of a little magazine intimidated and harassed by police in Silchar, Assam


A young editor and a publisher were harassed and intimidated for publishing a little magazine for allegedly containing materials that were thought to be immoral and insulting to a section of the society inSilchar,Assam. The magazine titled ‘Via Trunk Road’ contained write-ups, poems and pencil sketches on the rights of the homosexuals and the homosexuality. Additionally, a sketch of the language martyrs memorial altar with the names of eleven martyrs, eleven vodka bottles in a big glass and a burning cigarette was also published in the magazine. Police from Silchar Sdar police station in Cachar district registered a case against the editor and the publisher, raided their houses at mid-night and arrested and kept in detention illegally after a group of some influential people lodged a complaint against them. Subsequently they were released after they apologized publicly under social pressure. But the case against them still continues.

 Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) received written communications from the victims describing the incident in detail.  According o the information, ‘Via Trunk Road’ is a little magazine edited by Sahidul Haque Talukdar (aged 18), son of Nazrul Haque Talukdar and a resident of Munshi Safar Ali Lane, Ghaniala, Malugram, Silchar – 2 (Assam) and published by Shamim Ahmed Laskar (aged 23), son of  Abdul Wahid Laskar and a resident of Ghaniala Road, (near Masjid) Silchar – 2 (Assam). The June 2011 issue  contained some nude and seminude pencil sketches, some poems and articles about homosexuality, social, religious and scientific viewpoints on it. On the back cover page an altar with the names of eleven language martyrs (Bhasha Shaheed) of Barak Valley and a big glass containing eleven vodka bottles and a burning cigarette was sketched and titled as ‘Unish 2050’. The martyrs represent the sentiment of the Bengali speaking people living in the valley. They were killed by the state police for protesting against the policy of the state government to impose Assamese language in place of Bengali, the mother tongue of the majority inhabitants, during a demonstration at Silchar Railway Station on 19th May, 1961. The editor and publisher stated that a photograph published few days earlier in a local newspaper showing the accumulated wine bottles near the altar inspired them to publish the innocuous sketch in an attempt to depict the language martyrs day of 19 May celebration in 2050.

 According to the information received, ‘Bhasha Shahid Station Shahid Smaran Samiti’, a committee associated with the martyrs memorial and some other people were apparently got angry and lodged a complaint against the editor and the publisher of ‘Via Trunk Road’ on 16th July, 2011 at the Silchar Sadar Police Station and demanded their arrest. The Officer in Charge (OC) registered a First Information Report under sections 290/294/500/502/504 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 vide Case No. 1136/11dated 16/07/2011. Section 290 provides punishment for public nuisance, 294 punishes obscene acts and songs, 500 gives punishment for defamation, 502 prohibits sale of printed substance containing defamatory matters and 504 provides punishment for intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace.

 According to the victims, On 25 July, 2011 at 12.15 midnight 8-9 police personnel arrived at Shamim’s house; some of them were in civil dresses. Mr. Mukut Kakati, an officer, asked Shamim about his involvement with the magazine. Then he asked about Sahidul and wanted to visit his house. He also informed that an FIR had been lodged against their magazine and hence a meeting would be held at Shamim’s Residence. They reached Sahidul’s house at 12.45 am and woke him up by calling him and knocking on his door. Sahidul at first followed them and after a while he rushed to his mother’s room to inform his mother who at that time was in sound sleep. Mr. Kakati entered the room forcibly and said that it would take hardly 30 minutes. Both were astonished when they came to know that they were taken to Malugram Police Outpost instead of arranging any meeting at Shamim’s place. Mr. Kakati asked Shamim to bring all the unsold copies of their magazine, which he did. Then they reached Silchar Sadar Police Station instead of Maligram outpost. The victims alleged that most of the police personnel were visibly drunk.

 There for the first time, Shamim and Sahidul came to know that they had been arrested. At that time two other detained persons were badly beaten by Mr. Kakati in front of the Shamim and Sahidul and were let free; this was a frightening experience to Shamim and Sahidul. Both of them were taken toS.M.DebCivilHospitalfor medical test. They replied that they have no injury when asked by the Medical Officer. They returned to the Police Station at around 1:30 am. After checking their clothes they were detained in the lock up. Shamim’s spectacles were snatched though it was inevitable for a myopic person like him. They were kept in the police lock-up, which according to hem, was not in a condition to be in for a human being. It was filled with cockroaches, rats, mosquitoes, smell of urine and stool, dirty water etc. There was no water facility in the lavatory and it was so dirty that they started vomiting. They were provided with a blanket as mattress, which was perhaps not washed since years and smelt bad.

 The Investigating Police officer (I/O) wrote to the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) objecting to the grant of bail to the detainees showing various absurd reasons. He described, ‘.. a news was published in the Samayeek News Paper where deliberate and malicious photographs against the Bhasa Shahid Station…..’ He also described that the accused persons have intentionally caused breach of peace by writing against the feeling of a particular religious community. He further added that the situation was not suitable and might turn to worst leading towards bloodshed. These statements were utterly false and made with malicious intentions. However, the objection was not considered and the accused were released on bail of Rs. 20,000 at 2:30 pm.

But on the contrary to the description of the police, some renowned cultural activists and intellectuals of the valley condemned the arrest and demanded withdrawal of the case. As the editor and the publisher both were Bengali and as there was no religious sentiment attached with the martyrs but only linguistic concern, the question of communal violence raised by police was absurd and intentional. They also raised question about the inaction of the administration and the complainants regarding heaps of garbage of used bottles of wine, gutka packets and other similar things on and around the actual altars of Bhasa Shahid even after reports and photographs had been published in the local newspapers. They also said that the question of obscenity in art and literature is still controversial and there is no exact definition of the same. So there is no ground to demand arrest and to execute it. Moreover, Mr. Mukut Kakati was misusing his power at the instance of the influential persons. His letter to the CJM shows that he has no idea about the martyrs and the related phenomena. He only tried to extend the detention of the accused persons without any proper reason and with ill intention. Mr Kakati arrested the accused and kept them in detention in inhuman condition without maintaining proper legal process.

 BHRPC thinks that the sections of law that were invoked against the accused were not warranted by any thing published in the said magazine and as such the actions of police in registering the FIR, conducting raids, arresting the accused, keeping them in detention and attempt to mislead the courts with false statements amount to violations of fundamental rights under the Constitution of India and basic human rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966.

 BHRPC urges the authorities to provide adequate compensation to the victims for the physical and mental harassment and violations of their rights; initiation of disciplinary actions against the erring police personnel and guarantee of the safe exercise of right to freedom of expression and thought in Barak valley.

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