PUCL Chhattisgarh strongly condemns the discriminatory and arbitrary manner in which the conduct of service rules and social media guidelines are being used to silence a section of critical government officials. .
The most recent is the suspension of the Assistant Jail Superintendent of Baloda Bazar Sub Jail, Shri Dinesh Dhruv, for making a social media post advocating Adivasi rights and claiming that, “All Adivasis are not Naxalites.” This suspension closely follows on the heels of a suspension of another Deputy Jailor, Ms. Varsha Dongre, of Raipur jail, who had written a post on facebook describing the torture of young Adivasi girls in police custody, whose injuries she had herself witnessed when they entered the Jagdalpur Central Jail. In June last year, an IAS officer in Chhattisgarh, Alex Paul Menon, was given a notice by the Government for posing a question on Facebook – “Is there a bias in India’s legal system with 94% of Indians on death row being either Muslim or Dalit?” This post was also held to violate the rules of conduct for administrative officers.
These posts, notably by people belonging to the marginalized communities themselves (Dhruv is a Gond tribal, Dongre is from a Scheduled Caste, while Menon is a Christian), are neither anti-government, nor inflammatory, nor factually incorrect, nor hurtful of any other community’s sentiments. Hence, it is inconceivable how these posts flout any service rule of conduct, or any guidelines prescribed by the government for using social media.
It is a matter of grave concern that these public servants have been punished for the crime of expressing their views, sharing their concerns and speaking out for oppressed segments of society. No service rule prohibits such speech, in fact, the Indian Constitution expressly upholds the Freedom of Speech. For government institutions to curb such expression is a testament to how intolerant our official apparatus has become that the slightest critique of the social and religious hierarchy prevalent in society today is immediately taken to be anti-government, and hence, worthy of silencing.
It is also noteworthy that while the government authorities have acted with alacrity on these posts, they have been remarkably quiet on other public statements made by senior officials, which are not only inaccurate, but defamatory, abusive and insulting to individuals, leak confidential statements and are contemptuous of court proceedings. .
1. Amit Kataria, when he was the Collector of Bastar, made frivolous, irresponsible and completely false allegations on his facebook wall that the chemical attack on Soni Sori in February 2016 was staged – and, this at a time when investigation into this attack was still underway. Moreover, this article relied on confidential statements that were made before the police of the neighbouring district of Dantewada, which he should not even had access to, leave alone leaking them to the media in the middle of an ongoing investigation. No action was taken against him, he was not given any notice, nor was he made to tender any apology, nor was he ever suspended.
2. Jitendra Shukla, the ASP of Sukma, sent WhatsApp messages to groups of journalists claiming that an alleged surrendered Naxalite, Podiyam Panda, had given a statement before the High Court of Chhattisgarh in Bilaspur that eminent lawyers had abducted his wife and forced her to file a writ of Habeas Corpus. That no such statement was made by Podiyam Panda before the High Court can be easily confirmed by looking at the record of court proceedings. Nevertheless, the ASP was allowed to freely defame the reputations of these lawyers and display utter contempt for the court proceedings by spreading such patent falsehoods. Were no guidelines for conduct of senior officials violated by him, no service conducted
3. SRP Kalluri, the erstwhile IG of Bastar Range and a senior IPS officer, has publicly used the choicest invective against many social activists in Bastar. He has called Soni Sori a “bazaaru aurat” (immoral woman) before media, and has openly called upon the townspeople of Geedam, the place of Sori’s residence, to excommunicate her. This is a cognizable offence under Section 3(1)(zc) of the Prevention of Atrocities (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) Act, 1989. Yet, the IG was never asked to explain his conduct, nor issue any clarification, nor given any notice for this behavior.
Not only this, IG Kalluri also used abusive language in communication with women from around the country, who were seeking protection of activist Bela Bhatia, when she was threatened by hooligans in Jagdalpur. In response to their SMSes of concern at the developing situation, he sent abusive replies of “F U.” While there was a loud outcry at this, the IG was never suspended from his job, nor given any notice, nor demoted or subjected to a departmental inquiry – merely transferred out from Bastar Range to Police Headquarters in Raipur.
4. IK Elesela, the SP of Bastar, made a public pronouncement during a function of an automotive showroom that human rights activists, such as lawyers Isha Khandelwal and Shalini Gera, who oppose government policies, should be crushed on the roads. Such an open invitation to violence against named individuals, extended by a senior police official of a district who is responsible for safeguarding the security of all residents, also did not get the speaker suspended. The SP was transferred from Bastar to the State Intelligence Bureau, with no change in designation – clearly not a punitive action for his statements, but a diversionary tactic to deflect criticism.
It is clear from the above that the wrath of the authorities is not due to violations of some vague guidelines or service conduct rules, but for having the temerity to question the status quo, to advocate an ideology different from Hindutva, and to question social injustice.
PUCL upholds the freedom of expression of every individual – but this freedom does not mean that senior officials can get away with making incorrect, fallacious, abusive and inflammatory statements. However, it does mean that even government officials have the freedom to advocate independent views on social realities they confront, and they should not be silenced by some arbitrary rules of conduct, unequally applied.
Dr . Lakhan singh
Ad . Sudha bhardwaj
14 august 17