Police should respect freedom of speech, not waste time hounding Kerala’s crossword players

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The arrest of nine college students in Kerala for allegedly using invectives to describe leading political personalities, including PM Narendra Modi, in a crossword puzzle reflects government paranoia in the least and official intolerance in the extreme. Granted, there had been complaints by Kerala Students Union and ABVP, the student wing of BJP. Still, instead of investing too much scarce time and energy in such matters, when police are drawn into such cases it would be commonsensical of them to simply issue a gentle warning through the college authorities. But an overzealous police’s decision to instead arrest the students and book them under Section 153 of IPC smacks of wanton overreach of law — where a crossword puzzle is irrationally conflated with intent to cause a riot.


Kerala police is of course not alone in acting with worrying alacrity when it comes to harassing those who are accused of anti-Modi comments. In Karnataka and Goa, there has been a rash of police action against people who have posted criticism of the new PM on social media. At the centre of such intimidation is Information Technology Act’s ambiguously worded Section 66A. Its many absurdities, such as equating annoyance with criminal intimidation, encourage police high-handedness. It definitely belongs in the list of arbitrary laws whose only ‘use’ is to harass citizens. Modi has said he wants to phase out arbitrary laws as part of his ‘minimum government, maximum governance’ programme. Now his government should step up to the plate and use the Kerala, Karnataka and Goa cases to scrap Section 66A forthwith.


Social media posts that reflect dissent, alternative opinions, political satire or poke harmless fun at politicians make a democracy lively. They cannot be seen to be criminal acts. Nor can college essays or crossword puzzles.


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