India’s undeclared emergency: Dear BJP, arresting a citizen for calling you ‘fascist’ makes you… a fascist!

Published: September 7, 2018
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28-year-old Lois Sofia was detained at an airport in Tamil Nadu for the crime of shouting a slogan against the ruling BJP. PHOTO: BBC

Dissent breathes life into a democracy, which is why when you stifle free speech, you strangle your democracy. Sadly, freedom of speech and democracy have never felt as suffocated in India as they feel today. 

The latest example of this is the detention of 28-year-old Lois Sofia at an airport in Tamil Nadu, for the crime of shouting a slogan against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The incident escalated because Sofia shouted in front of the Tamil Nadu BJP Chief Tamilisai Soundararajan,

“Fascist BJP government down, down.”

This is a normal way of expressing displeasure and discontent with the functioning of a government, but the reaction to her protest is what comes as a surprise. The police arrested Sofia on the complaint of the BJP chief, and punished her with detention for 15 days. Luckily, she managed to get unconditional bail the next day.

The BJP leader argued that she suspected the young girl belonged to some organisation and that she found Sofia’s behaviour suspicious, which is why she complained to the police. However, this has been the pattern of the BJP government ever since it came to power four years ago. Anyone opposing its policies or Prime Minister Narendra Modi is termed anti-national or a threat to the nation, and thus deserving of punishment.

Sofia is a student in Canada and came to India to meet her parents, but her anguish at the functioning of the government in Delhi made her protest in front of the BJP leader at the airport. This is a normal – some might even say healthy – way of venting of anger in a democratic country. But the BJP sees this as a threat.

Days before this incident, the government swooped upon some prominent activists and academics and arrested them for being ‘urban Naxals’, a term they use for those supporting Maoist rebels in the country. These are the people who fight for justice for the tribal and marginalised communities in the country, whom the government wants to uproot from their natural habitat in the name of development. The Supreme Court intervened and stayed the arrest of these citizens, who are now under house arrest, waiting for further intervention from the court to get justice.

It would be safe to say that an atmosphere of fear prevails in the country today. Under the leadership of PM Modi, democracy is struggling for air.

This is the irony of history that a man who received a historic and democratic mandate in 2014 is now turning against that mandate, trying to stifle the very voices that brought him into power. In the last four years, his government has tried to weaken democratic institutions, suppress freedom of speech and create a majoritarian political culture where voices of dissent are either pushed to the margin or suppressed entirely.

The attack on religious minorities has never been as intense as it is now. Lynching in the name of beef or love jihad has become a common practice under the BJP regime, with central ministers greeting the violent criminals behind the killings with garlands of their own.

On the other hand, the media has never been as subservient as it is now. Three senior journalists were recently forced to resign for doing programmes critical of the BJP government and Modi. Reports suggest the government forced the bigwigs of the channel to sack these professionals in order to remain in the good graces of the regime. Today, except for a few websites and news channels, most of the media houses have simply become a mouthpiece of the government.

Subsequently, those who dare to challenge the government’s narrative are either killed or maimed. Rachna Khera, a journalist working for The Tribune, was harassed and faced criminal charges for exposing the faults in Modi’s pet project, the Aadhar card. Her investigative reports showed how the data for making the cards could be manipulated, and how easy it was for anyone to acquire such an important card, one the Indian government wants to promote as a national identity card.

Take the case of Gauri Lankesh, who was running a local newspaper from the South Indian city of Bangalore. Her views were not only anti-government, but also very critical of Hinduism as practised by the BJP and its ideological and fraternal organisation. Last year, she was murdered in front of her house and the killers made it amply clear that she fell victim to ideological hatred. This is not an isolated incident. Three journalists were killed in March in Madhya Pradesh for exposing the links between the mafia and politicians in the state. The state is run by the BJP.

Universities have historically been the platform for healthy dissent and resistance. However, even the atmosphere in university campuses has become regimented. Universities dread inviting contrarian voices in fear of debating or challenging the government’s narrative. Bringing up Kashmir has become next to impossible. Any attempt to challenge or question the government’s narrative only makes room for arrest, violence or worse. The frequent controversies surrounding the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), such as charges of sedition levied on students over a protest, are proof the BJP wants to control all the liberal spaces that have shaped India for more than seven decades.

What Modi has done in his tenure thus far is attack the very soul of democracy. It’s an undeclared emergency the country is passing through, for never before have we experienced an atmosphere where we constantly have to check ourselves, as we constantly feel under surveillance. Real or not, the deep state seems to be watching you.

In the next six months, India will face an election of its own. The fight will be bigger, and things will only get uglier as the BJP does whatever needs to be done to win. However, in the fight to win, the soul of the Indian democracy may die in the process. Like Sofia, we all have anger inside of us bursting to come out, but not all of us are brave enough to speak up, for we all know there will be consequences.

Santosh Arora

Santosh Arora

The blogger is a journalist from India.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • wb

    Self declared activists in India think they’re somehow superior to us in intellect. No bro. I can challenge you to a test on IQ and also GK if you want. I’m way superior to you in all aspects of mental health. And I will and we will continue to vote for BJP. Because your BJP phobia and Islamist-apology will never pass as fact. You definitely need help in getting better education and any of us can do that. But for now, brace yourself and all of your other Hindu-phobic, Islamist-apologist, Leftists to endure another two tenure of law and justice under Modi. We will crush irrationality, hatred, terrorism from India.Recommend

  • rationalist

    Those arrested are supporters of terrorist Maoists/Naxals. This lady Sophia also belongs to the Maoist group. These Naxal supporters hide under the veneer of “human rights activism” when in reality they are part of the leftist/communist/maoist groups whose real aim is to breakup India into pieces. They should all be eliminated.Recommend

  • Rampravesh Upadhyay

    Luckily she was not flying in USA or KSA otherwise she should have been nicely in prison for 14-15 years. How can you create this kind of drama inside the flight. If she wants to protest then she should go any BJP party office and protest.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    The girl was arrested for creating nuisance in an aircraft which is a crime under DGCA rules.

    Section 1.1 of DGCA circular on handling unruly passengers says ‘Unlawful/disruptive behaviour on board the aircraft may interfere with the performance of duties of the crew members or hamper the ability of the crew members to perform those duties or jeopardize the safety of the aircraft /persons/ property on board/good order & discipline on board, cause discomfort to other passengers & crew members and may invite penal action in accordance with applicable regulations.’

    Section 1.3 of DGCA circular says Unruly behaviour on-board aircraft has been declared as an offence and is a punishable act.Recommend

  • Raj

    The whole article above is highly biased and wrongly reported. Yes, the accused Ms.Sofia was arrested. This is not because, she raised solgan as BJP a fascist force. She was arrested beacuse, she raised this slogan inside an aircraft where so many other co-passengers were also travelling. It is their basic freedom to travel in a plane peacefully and airplane is not an open ground for political sloganeering. ALso, airplane is not a place where political meeting take place. WHen this lady sofia wanted to have only her freedom and did not bother about other’s freedom then only the problem came. After all, why should the co-passengers be made to hear allegations and counter allegations. There are other avenues available for oppositing the BJP and definitely aircraft is not a place to raise.Recommend

  • Parvez

    The article says she was at the airport and not inside an aircraft …… the author needs to clarify this because it changes the picture.
    Another thing I notice is that she got unconditional bail the next day …. so obviously things are not as out of hand as being suggested.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    She created nuisance in aircraft AND AGAIN at Airport.
    The author told half of the story and yes, she got bail; so clearly it’s not big deal.Recommend

  • Shakir Lakhani

    So there will be no Muslims, Christians and Dalits left in India after ten years?Recommend

  • Mail Me

    Freedom is not absolute. There are ways to express your opinions in democracy. You can’t create nuisance at a public place shouting slogans.
    We definitely know that there is a smear campaign against the BJP Govt by a section of press and people of certain communities.Recommend

  • siesmann

    FunnyRecommend

  • Saran

    The author conveniently left few things which is not suited for his version! She is inside the aircraft! The incident happens TN State which we all belongs to and last 2 weeks this is hot topic. There is lot of things that left behind. If you understand the fully story, then you may come to a different conclusion!Recommend

  • Headstrong

    It was inside the aircraft. Many reports on this but this writer has conveniently (and deliberately) omitted this.
    While there have been occasions when the government has clamped down too harshly, this is not one of them.
    An obvious hatchet jobRecommend

  • rationalist

    Even at the airports, those who are unruly and disturbing other passengers and staff can be arrested.Recommend

  • rationalist

    The story says she is an Indian student in Canada. The real reason she did it could be to apply for asylum in Canada. Very likely she planned all this to support her intended asylum claim. She will surely submit the airport incident as supporting material for her bogus asylum claim. Very clever on her part.Recommend

  • Patwari

    You don’t get it, do you? She was protesting in her OWN COUNTRY.
    Her country is called BHARAT. The world’s largest democracy.
    Land of Ghandhiji.
    She was not against anything in Saudia, or Trumpland.Recommend

  • Sane

    In India the BJP government is a fascist in attitude. What else can be expected from the PM Modi, who is a culprit of mass murders. But, kangaroo courts evicted him.Recommend

  • Sane

    For you every thing is irrational, full of hatred and terrorism, if it is against Modi govt, or BJP. No one can protest in Fascist India against Modi or BJP.Recommend

  • Patwari

    You are a sick individual. When she gets her degree, the Canadians will love
    to have live in Canada.Recommend

  • Patwari

    No. It does not changes any picture. India is a full of hate fascist country.
    There are people commenting here in this blog who want to kill off all
    minorities, low castes, in Hindustan, within,10 years from now.
    What difference does it makes wheather she was inside or outside? The
    plane was not flying.
    Everyone and his brother knows Hindustan has become a fascist country
    under strongman Modi Sarkar. She is lucky she has not been hacked to
    pieces,…so far, …with machete wielding terrorists who will not tolerate a
    single word against the Selfie King/Saffron Lord of the Hindutva Nation.
    Scholars, professors, teachers, journalists, intellectuals who dare raise a
    voice, are dispatched, murdered, killed, quickly and efficiently within days.Recommend

  • Raj

    I agree fully.Recommend

  • Raj

    If someone comes into your house and shout against you, if you are not acting aginst the person, then you are a coward or a fool. Just like Sofia, the coopassengers also have got freedom to travel peacefully in airplane. SO, your support to sofia is so opportunitistic to get some brownie points from the useless opposition parties by attacking the BJP (anyway this brownie point is so useless). In the process you are ignoring the freedom of general public like me also. Dont be so selfish to insist for your freedom only. Respect others freedom also.Recommend

  • Raj

    She cannot protest at the cost of my freedom inside the aircraft. It was sheer public nuisance and must be punished.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Freedom is absolute, But not in a fascist country like Hindustan ruled by a strongman
    who does not believe in any kind of opposition. Firm believer in a minority free Hindia.
    Modi Sarkar’s rule is absolute. Make no mistake. Like Hitler’s.
    There is something called ‘freedom of speech’ in Hinduland’s constitution, but you never heard of it.
    The German Fuehrer started to get rid of the Jews and other minorities. Modi will not be
    able to get rid of the Muslims. There are more than 200 million of them.Recommend

  • Patwari

    She is not infringing on your freedom, she is bravely voicing her fears.
    There is such a thing as ‘freedom of speech’. Which you never heard of.
    It’s in Hindustan’s constitution. It’s gives you the right to raise your voice
    against injustice, inequality, discrimination and thug tactics employed by
    Modi Sarkar and his henchmen.
    If it was up to YOU, there would be no demonstrations, or raising their voices by any caste or creed, or sect, or religious persuasion, that YOU don’t like.
    You can see it happening in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Ladakh, and specially,
    specially, in Indian Kashmir. Let’s not forget the indigenous in Arunachal
    Pradesh, or what is going on in Assam.
    As they say,…’aaine mein dekho’.Recommend

  • Raj

    That freedom is not granted inside an aircraft. Inside an aircraft, i have the freedom to travel peacefully. She can never never shout inside the aircraft. That is a nuisance. The government is right in punishing her.Recommend

  • Sane

    You want to eliminate all who say truth; either Muslims, Dilats, Sikhs, Christian and above all Kashmiri Muslims. But, you have failed so far and would always be a failure.Recommend