At least eight people have been arrested, two booked and one suspended from a government job, across the country, over social media posts on the death of General Bipin Rawat, his wife and other officers in a helicopter crash in Tamil Nadu. Action over the posts has been reported from Jammu and Kashmir, BJP-run Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka, Congress-run Rajasthan, and from Tamil Nadu that has a DMK government.
The most arrests have taken place in Rajasthan — one in the hours following the crash and two on Saturday. The Pratapgarh police arrested Manish Kumar Meena, 28, and Jeevanlal Ninama, 25, on Saturday for allegedly posting “offensive” material on the crash. Pratapgarh SP Amrita Duhan said Meena had put up posts on Facebook. A police statement said the remarks by the two had “hurt public sentiments”.
Earlier, police in Rajasthan’s Tonk district arrested Jawaad Khan, 21, for alleged “inappropriate” remarks on Instagram about General Rawat. Police said they were alerted about the remarks on the night of December 8, hours after the aircraft had crashed.
“Khan has been arrested under Section 505 (2) (making statements with intent to cause public mischief, or alarm to public) and has been sent to judicial custody,” said Chandra Singh, Circle Officer, Tonk. The FIR was registered on a complaint filed by a police constable. It said Khan’s remarks promoted enmity between communities.
Two people have been arrested in Gujarat, the first on December 9 and another on Friday, the son of a retired police sub-inspector. The Bharuch Special Operations Group (SOG) team arrested Feroz Diwan Friday for alleged “objectionable” comments to a Facebook post on the crash. He later deleted the post. Diwan was released on bail on Saturday.
The FIR was registered by the Bharuch SOG. Officials said Diwan’s “objectionable” remarks had come to their notice and they finally caught him from Manubar village. Diwan is facing charges under IPC Sections 153 (giving provocation with an intention to cause riot), 153 (B) (imputations prejudicial to national integration), 504 (intentional insult to provoke breach of peace), 505 (1B) (intent to incite and create fear among the public) and Information Technology Act 84 (c) (punishment for an attempt to commit offence).
Inspector K D Mandora, who is with the Bharuch SOG, said: “Diwan deleted the post but kept screenshots on his mobile phone. We have seized the phone.”
On December 9, the Amreli police in Gujarat held Shiva Bhai Ahir, 44, for an alleged post regarding the crash. He is facing charges under Sections 153A (enmity between different groups), 505(1) (publishing and circulating rumours) and 295A (for deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage feelings).
Sources said the cyber wing arrested Ahir, a former deputy sarpanch of Bherai village, after police were alerted by Twitter users, who tagged Gujarat Minister of State, Home, Harsh Sanghavi on the matter.
“The accused has used his Facebook id to build clout by posting controversial statements against elected representatives and to create a rift between different communities in the past as well,” said Assistant Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad Cyber Crime Cell, J M Yadav.
In Madhya Pradesh’s Khandwa district, a tribal youth leader, Durgesh Vaskale, was arrested Saturday over alleged remarks on Facebook, which have been since removed. BJP MLA Ram Dangore complained against Vaskale, who is part of the Jai Adivasi Yuva Shakti, to Khandwa SP Vivek Singh, saying that he regularly posted offensive remarks and should be tried under the National Security Act (NSA).
Vaskale was arrested under IPC Sections 297 (trespassing to wound religious feelings), 153A and 153B, on the complaint of Ajay More and Neelesh Dangore. They accused him of rejoicing over the “martyrdom” of Rawat and the others, and trying to disturb social harmony.
SP Singh said, “A man made derogatory remarks… which was brought to our notice.”
State Congress spokesman Narendra Saluja asked why no action had been taken against the district head of the BJP IT cell, Inder Patel, who had written “Absolutely true” in response to Vaskale’s post. MLA Dangore said Patel’s comment had been brought to the party leadership’s attention.
In Tamil Nadu, a popular YouTuber backed by the BJP, Maridhas, was arrested Saturday for a tweet that hinted at a conspiracy behind the crash and accused the ruling DMK of encouraging separatist politics. While he deleted one of the tweets, another posted by Maridhas accused followers of the DMK and its ally Dravida Kazhagam of “mocking” the death of Rawat and the others. Maridhas has nearly two lakh followers on Twitter.
The Madurai police booked Maridhas under IPC Sections 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace) and 505(2).
The police team that went to Maridhas’s Madurai home to arrest him faced protests by BJP workers. BJP state president Annamalai said the arrest “seriously violates the freedom of expression”.
Another arrest was reported from the border Rajouri district in Jammu, of a shopkeeper, Mohammad A Shafi. Police said Shafi forwarded a Facebook post that allegedly originated in Pakistan in which “derogatory” remarks were made against General Rawat. “We have detained him under preventive provisions,” said Rajouri SHO Sameer Jeelani.
Police said they were also planning to initiate action against a contractual lecturer in Pulwama, Kashmir, after a complaint was made against him by some right-wing Hindu organisations in Udhampur over “derogatory” posts. The lecturer earlier worked in Udhampur.
On Friday, Jammu and Kashmir Bank suspended one of its women staff members pending disciplinary proceedings for allegedly reacting to a news story on the chopper crash with a laughing emoji. The suspension order said: “The contents are purely defamatory and not in consonance with conduct rules governing the service of the employee.”
The Karnataka Police Saturday registered cases against two persons in Mangaluru for alleged derogatory messages over Rawat’s death on Facebook. The cases have been registered under Sections 505(1 and 2) and 505 (1) (A) (with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, any officer, soldier to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty as such).
Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai earlier instructed police to take action against “perverted minds” who tweet “derogative, celebratory messages” over the crash. “Every Indian should strongly condemn this act… against the man who led the armed forces to defend the country,” he said.
Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra Saturday said such people were “anti-nationals”.