Eight months after the police failed to act on a complaint filed by socio-political activist Leher Sethi with the National Commission for Women (NCW) against actress-model Payal Rohtagi, Sethi filed a criminal case against Rohtagi at a Delhi Court (Patiala House) on February 8, alleging her tweets incite hate speech against the Muslim community.
The court has now directed the Delhi Police to file an ATR (action taken report) by March 15, the date of the next hearing.
The case registered against Rohatgi is under Section 156 CRPC, Section 295A of IPC (Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or reli¬gious beliefs); and Sections 66F (Punishment for cyber terrorism) and 67A (Punishment for publishing or transmitting of material containing the sexually explicit act, etc., in electronic form) of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
Since early 2020, Sethi found Rohatgi's tweets becoming increasingly abusive against women involved in the anti-CAA protests and targeting Indian Muslim women in the most vulgar manner possible. Due to the massive outrage against Rohatgi's tweets, Twitter suspended her account for a week in June 2020, and then permanently suspended her on July 8, 2020.
"But merely suspending her account is not enough, because it is a criminal charge when you are disrupting communal harmony in the country by talking against one community and inciting the other with these kinds of comments," says Sethi, who points out that the actress continues to "spew hate" on her Instagram and YouTube accounts.
On June 9, 2020, she filed a complaint against Rohatgi with the NCW. The NCW found the application vague and did not register it. Sethi filed another application on June 18, and this time attached screenshots of Rohatgi's tweets that attacked Sania Ahmad, Arfa Khanun Sherwani, Ladeeda Farzana, Safoora Zargar, Zaira Wasim, and Swara Bhaskar. The NCW acted on the second complaint and forwarded it to then DCP Vishal Thakur of Cyber Police Station, BKC, as Rohatgi was said to be living in Mumbai.
"However after this, every time I tried calling the NCW counsellor assigned to my case, I got no reply. Neither did they follow up on the case with the Mumbai police. I thought this being the apex body for women's rights in this country, it would pursue the matter earnestly," Sethi says.
Simultaneously, she continued following up with the Cyber Police on the status of her complaint. "Every time, I called up the cyber branch, I was told the authorities were not in the office, or in quarantine because their family tested positive for Covid. I was asked for more proof, so I sent the content and screenshots, but was again asked to send it in the pdf format."
After two months, the police updated Sethi that a team had gone to Rohatgi's Mumbai address but the neighbours said she no longer lives in Mumbai.
"They told me that this case no longer falls under their purview and they have transferred the complaint to the Vasant Kunj Police station, as I come under this jurisdiction. So, I requested them to confirm these developments in writing as proof and for the purpose of documentation by replying to the NCW's email of my complaint. But after sending them three-four emails, and not getting any response for two months, I lost my patience and escalated the matter to the Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh on October 28. He immediately sent an email to the Joint Commissioner of Police Milind Bharambe to take necessary action, ccing me. Meanwhile, I sent hard copies of the complaint and screenshots of the tweets by registered post to both the authorities. Within a week, on November 6, Senior Inspector SS Sahasrabudhe of the cybercrime branch emailed me about the jurisdiction transfer."
But despite repeated follow-ups, the Vasant Kunj police did not act on her complaint, and as a last resort, Sethi moved court, filing the case through her lawyer, Supreme Court Advocate Shirsh Kumar.
This is not the first time Rohatgi is facing legal charges for her remarks on social media. In December 2019, she was held in judicial custody for nine days by the Bundi Police under the IT Act for her objectionable post on social media against the Nehru-Gandhi family. Mumbai-based Advocate Ali Kaashif Khan Deshmukh had also filed a case at the Metropolitan Magistrate court in Andheri asking for registration of an FIR against the actress for her tweets after the Amboli police station failed to act on his complaint. The case is up for the final argument on February 25.
On being contacted, Rohatgi replied over WhatsApp, "You can speak to my lawyer. I don't intend to give publicity to stupid jobless people filing FIR against me for publicity (sic)."
When Rohatgi was contacted back in September 2020, she had issued this as clarification. "I am not against Muslims. I am just against people who are against India. I tweeted about Safoora Zargar because her pregnancy was made into a drama to camouflage her involvement in CAA protests which actually burned Delhi. But because of her personal life, you can't give her a clean chit over an anti-national activity."
She had also defended her stance about using abusive words. "Anushka Sharma named a Kutiya Savitri in Paatal Lok, and Savitri is the name of a Hindu Goddess. You really need to clarify what is abuse/slang/what is okay."