KOLKATA: A Jadavpore University professor was arrested early Friday for allegedly circulating defamatory cartoons of some Trinamool Congress leaders including West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, attracting widespread criticism from all quarters.
Ambikesh Mahapatra, a professor of physical chemistry, in his 50s, was arrested late Thursday night.
"Mahapatra has been booked under several sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Information technology Act," an officer of East Jadavpore police station said.
Another person, Subrata Sengupta, the secretary of Mahapatra's housing society, has also been arrested as the professor allegedly used the society's registered email id to send the cartoon strips.
The collage of cartoons by Mahapatra allegedly includes the photographs of Banerjee and Railway Minister Mukul Roy and uses some dialogues of Satyajit Ray's detective masterpiece "Sonar Kella", showing the duo discussing how to get rid of party leader Dinesh Trivedi, who was forced by the chief minister to give up the railways portfolio. 'Mukul' is incidentally the name of the child protagonist in the movie.
Mahapatra has been booked under charges of outraging the modesty of a woman - punishable with one year imprisonment, defamation which carries a maximum term of two years and hacking, punishable with three years prison term and fine up to Rs.2 lakh.
Both Mahapatra and Sengupta were granted bail by the court of 2nd judicial magistrate (Alipore) Suparna Roy.
"All the sections under which Mahapatra and Sengupta were arrested were bailable and hence the court granted them bail. Moreover, one of the sections being non cognizable, the police were at fault in arresting him without a warrant," said Mahapatra's lawyer.
Mahapatra was also beaten allegedly by Trinamool Congress supporters while he was returning home and handed over to the police after filing a complaint against him.
The arrest has evoked widespread condemnation.
Trinamool Congress rebel MP Kabir Suman, condemning the arrest, said: "Even I have received the cartoon and I cannot fathom how it can be a cyber crime. It has been made in good humour. If he can be arrested today then who knows we may be arrested tomorrow."
Political leaders cutting across party lines have been vocal in condemning the arrest. While Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state secretary Rahul Sinha called the action a blatant misuse of power, Congress leader O.P. Mishra said the move was an attack on the democracy and freedom of speech and expression.
Educationist Sunando Sanyal, once considered close to Banerjee, said: "This is not the change one had desired. It is unfortunate. I cannot understand how she (Banerjee) can take such a step. It shows her impatience."
Actor Kaushik Sen said: "I could not suppress my smile when I heard about the issue. But at the same time this is a laughable matter. If somebody draws a cartoon he has to be arrested? This is ridiculous and alarming. I feel concerned. May be, later our plays will be stopped and our houses attacked."
Students of Jadavpore university took printouts of the cartoon and displayed them in the campus, and put up posters opposing the arrest.
The government, however, defended the police action.
Transport Minister Madan Mitra said the act by Mahapatra was demeaning of a teacher while Labour Minister Purnendu Bose said: "It is an attempt to insult Banerjee and police have done what they are expected to do in such a case."