Kolkata, April 13 (IANS) No laughing matter, this. A Jadavpore University professor was arrested here early Friday for allegedly circulating defamatory cartoons of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and some other Trinamool Congress leaders.
The secretary of Mahapatra's Housing Society, a neighbour of the professor, was also arrested as the latter allegedly used the society's registered e-mail id to circulate the cartoon strip.
The move sparked widespread criticism, with many calling it an attack on freedom of speech.
"Ambikesh Mahapatra was arrested and has been booked under several sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Information Technology Act," an officer of East Jadavpore police station said.
Mahapatra, a physical chemistry professor who is to be produced before a court, faces charges of outraging the modesty of a woman - punishable with one year imprisonment, defamation, which carries a maximum term of two years, and hacking, a crime punishable with a three-year jail term and a fine up to Rs.2 lakh.
The collage of cartoons 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 earlier forced by the chief minister to give up the railways portfolio in the central government. 'Mukul' is incidentally the name of the child protagonist in the movie.
Mahapatra was also allegedly beaten by Trinamool Congress supporters while he was returning home and handed over to police after a complaint against him.
The arrest has evoked widespread criticism.
Trinamool Congress rebel MP Kabir Suman 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 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."
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."
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