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Lawlessness in Maharashtra: Freedom of Speech & Expression in question

Palghar Sadhus were lynched in April, 2020 by a mob in presence of Maharashtra Police.

Arnab Goswami led Republic Media along with few other Media Networks called out Maharashtra Government, the parties ruling it including Shiv Sena, National Congress Party (NCP) & Indian National Congress (Congress) and it’s topmost leadership for this state sponsored murder. This led to multiple FIRs against Arnab Goswami, Republic Media and others by the Maharashtra Government & political parties named above. Matter went to Supreme Court & Maharashtra High Court where the verdict supported Republic Media’s stand and Maharashtra Government was stopped from taking actions against Arnab & Republic Media.

After few weeks, Sushant Singh Rajput, a famous Bollywood actor from Bihar was found dead in his apartment in Mumbai which was called a suicide by the Mumbai Police. Matter took a twist when family of Sushant lodged an FIR in Bihar against the girlfriend of Sushant- Rhea Chakroborty & her family under various serious charges and called for a fair probe. This FIR in Bihar took a bitter fight between Bihar & Maharashtra Government as well between family of Sushant & Rhea where former were calling it a murder and asking for a fair probe while the latter were calling it a suicide with no link of suspicion. During this, only few stood against Maharashtra Government and Bollywood including Republic Media & Kangana Ranaut (a famous Bollywood star). Kangana Ranaut gave an interview to Arnab Goswami of Republic sharing her experiences in Bollywood and pointed out that the death of Sushant may have Drug angle. This interview annoyed many in power who started abusing Sushant’s family, portraying negative and fabricated news about Sushant & his mental health, started maligning Kangana’s image along with pressurising Arnab led Republic.

This all didn’t work and made Republic the number one channel in both Hindi & English in terms of viewership and people in the nation started doubting the intent of Maharashtra Government. This made Maharashtra Government come under pressure who then decided to put hurdle in the work of Bihar Police to an extent that one of the IPS officer on duty of Bihar Police was quarantined illigally by Maharashtra Government. Following this, Bihar Government referred this case for CBI inquiry which was accepted by the Central Government. Matter was later taken up by Supreme Court where Maharashtra Government & Rhea Chakraborty opposed CBI inquiry. Apex court slammed Maharashtra for their illegal act against IPS officer, passed order releasing him and sanctioned the Sushant’s death case to CBI.

After CBI took over, other central agencies also came into picture including Enforcement Directorate (ED) & Narcotics. Narcotics found drug angle and arrester Rhea Chakraborty and few others which gave Arnab Goswami, Republic Media & Kangana Ranaut to speek more critically on Maharashtra Government and the parties ruling it. Kangana Ranaut felt sad and frightened by the state of affairs in Maharashtra and metaphorically said that she feels like living in POK(Pakistan occupied Kashmir).

This irked the latter so much that one senior leader of Shiv Sena & Member of Parliament Sh Sanjay Raut called Kangana Ranaut – Haramkhor. When asked later, he shamelessly said that Haramkhor means Naughty. This was followed by Shiv Sena promoting Sanjay Raut as their Chief Spokesperson which shows that the party ruling the state is supporting such statements by it’s leader against a female actor.

Many leader’s from Maharashtra ruling parties threatened Kangana of dire consequences if she lands in Maharashtra (read Mumbai) as she have already declared her date of visit. Kangana requested Centre to provide her security while her family requested the Government of Himachal Pradesh to provide her security. After looking at the danger and threat’s, Centre attributed Y+ Security to Kangana while Himachal Pradesh gave security forces to her due to the threat possessed on her.

Before she could even reach Mumbai & was still on flight, Shiv Sena led BMC started demolishing her office in Mumbai despite of a stay granted by the Maharashtra High Court and stopped only after an oral stay passed by the Maharashtra High Court. Later in evening, High Court slammed the government and issued notice calling for an affidavit stating reasons for such actions despite the stay.

This led to Kangana releasing a video accusing Uddhav Thakrey’s Government for the demolition. On the other hand, Republic Media continuously reported this news while continuing their investigative journalism in Sushant’s case. After Kangana, it was now Republic’s turn to face the wrath of a Draconian government. In a free democratic country like India, reporters of Republic were arrested by police when they were pursuing a story near the house of Maharashtra’s Chief Minister Uddhav Thakrey and were put in jail for 4 days without any legal representation.

It is not only an obvious & blatant attack on the right to report, but also the most determined attack on freedom of free speech, freedom of expression & rights of Media in India.

On the one hand, we’re fighting for Kulbhushan Jhadav case against Pakistan in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for his right to legal counsel, while on the other hand Maharashtra Government denied legal counsel to one of our own people.

After Kangana’s office was demolished, she compared Maharashtra to Pakistan (remember, she compared it with POK earlier).

Also to remind, Palghar Sadhus didn’t get justice yet and a plea for transfer of the case to Central Bureau of Investigation is pending in Supreme Court.

These all makes me question:

Did Kangana really made a wrong comparison?

This is for us to think.

Author: Adv. Shashank Shekhar Jha
Legal Editor, GoaChronicle.com

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