Top officers in the Kolkata police confirmed that there was no parallel in the state of arrest and prosecution under the sections applied to chemistry professor Ambikesh Mahapatra and 72-year-old Subrata Sengupta. They were booked under IPC Sections 509 (word, gesture or act insulting the modesty of a woman), Section 500 (defamation) and Section 114 (abettor present when offence is committed) and Section 66 A(b) of the IT Act (causing offence using a computer).
The cartoon in question, which was also posted by Mahapatra on a social networking site and has now been removed, showed the Chief Minister and Roy having a conversation that appears inspired from Satyajit Ray's Sonar Kella, and alluded to the arbitrary replacement of Trivedi by Roy as Union Railway Minister. Mahapatra and Sengupta, who forwarded the mail to 65 people, including many fellow residents of the New Garia Housing Society, were arrested from the society's office at around 10.30 pm Thursday.
While the charges are bailable and the two could have been released on personal bonds from the East Jadavpur police station, they were kept for the night and got bail today afternoon.
The action against the professor and his neighbour comes in the wake of a series of whimsical steps taken by Mamata — from storming a police station to free Trinamool Congress workers, to painting Kolkata blue and playing Rabindrasangeet at traffic signals, to forcing Trivedi out for raising rail fares.
The arrests drew widespread condemnation in the state and protests on Jadavpur University campus. Over 200 professors and non-teaching staff took out rallies on Friday evening and the university said it would extend any help Mahapatra needed.
Without referring to the arrests, Mamata said today that there was no place in the state for those who make remarks in bad taste, and that the police were right in arresting anybody who commits an offence. Attending programmes at Burdwan and Bankura, the Chief Minister said that "some quarters" were out to spread "false and fabricated" propaganda against her government, but they would fail.
Mahapatra's counsel Sanjib Ganguly pointed out that as per the defamation section under which his client has been charged, only an affected person can lodge a complaint. However, the professor and Sengupta were arrested on the complaint of a local Trinamool Congress leader, Amit Sardar, who did not feature in the cartoon.
Incidentally, while the cartoon Mahapatra forwarded has been in circulation for some time, the professor got into trouble as he marked it to some members of the New Garia Housing Society that also includes Trinamool Congress leaders, including Sardar.
Mahapatra said he had been surrounded by a group of youths while he was returning home around 9.15 pm yesterday. "They forcibly dragged me to the cooperative (society) office where some senior cooperative members were present. The youths who were outsiders started slapping and assaulting me and abused me for sending the e-mail."
"As I begged for mercy, they asked me to write a letter stating that I have sent the cartoon using the email id of the secretary of the cooperative society. I wrote an apology but they tore off the letter and ordered me to write that 'I have intentionally forwarded the cartoon and I am a member of the CPM'. I was scared and wrote the same," he said.
The professor added that while he didn't regret sending the cartoon "as it was a simple joke", he had apologised to the society's members on April 6 for using the official id of the society for it.
Mahapatra also accused the police of not registering his complaint that he had been assaulted.
Minister for Transport Madan Mitra was among the Trinamool leaders who supported the action against Mahapatra and Sengupta. "The incident proves that all litterateurs are not civilised. In the name of education, attempts are being made to convert Jadavpur University into a Maoists' den," he said, urging the people to inform the government if any defamatory remarks or pictures of the Chief Minister were spotted on any social networking sites.
"There is no place in the state for those who make remarks in bad taste."
"They ordered me to write that 'I have intentionally forwarded the cartoon and I am a member of the CPM'."
Prof Ambikesh Mahapatra
"Are we really heading for a party-sponsored emergency?" CPM leader Surya Kanta Mishra
Reason for her rage
In Satyajit Ray's Sonar Kella (Fort of Gold), six-year-old Mukul remembers a fabulous golden fort from a past life and sets out to find it. He is chased by "dushtu lok" (literally, 'bad men'), one of whom disguises himself as Dr Hazra, a parapsychologist who is supposed to be accompanying Mukul. He throws Hazra off a cliff and says, "Dushtu lok vanish!"