Police in India have become very vigilant these days. They pounce on anyone exercising free speech, especially if it offends thugs, or political activists as they are called, in the sterile environment of servility that citizens are being forced to inhabit.
Bal Thackeray was a political activist who commanded thugs in his lifetime. When he died last month, he was lionised not just by his supporters, but also in the TV studios of this country, by editors who should have known better. Painstakingly, layers of complexity were grafted on to his legacy and politics, layers which the man himself didn’t exhibit. He was a nationalist, editors confirmed. A man of contradictions. He hugged Michael Jackson. He saw the world differently because he was a cartoonist. He was an original. He sipped wine in the afternoon. Of course, he was controversial (read commanded sainiks who could intimidate or kill), a divisive figure, they grovelled when they ran out of platitudes.

We should not speak ill of the dead, apparently that’s our sanskriti, and it does not matter one bit that the dead in question promoted ill-will all his life. Really, how much eulogising of a public figure’s personal charisma can one do when his politics was toxic? Last I checked, We the people of India had decided that India was Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic, a place where there is Freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship. Now, Thackeray was not too fond of secularism or democracy; years of admiring Hitler’s art can do that to a person. He was also the man who was disenfranchised for six years for asking people to vote on communal lines.

The two young women who live in Thane’s Palghar believed in an India that Thackeray didn’t, and his sainiks don’t. On Facebook, one of them made fair comment on the situation that had arisen in Mumbai because of the Shiv Sena chief’s death, and sought make a distinction between fear and respect. Her friend “liked” it. Some sainiks got offended, and the police made arrests using ham-handed sections of the Indian Penal Code, and the IT Act’s section 66(a) which is Kapil Sibal’s gift to the nation. A magistrate set the case in motion instead of throwing it out and rapping the cops.

Their belief must be shaken if not shattered. Some examples need to be set. Sibal’s law needs to go. Parts of the Penal Code need to go. Policemen who don’t know the law, like the ones in Palghar, also need to go. Today it’s the girls. Tomorrow you and I could be living in
Thackeray’s India, or Mumbai as he would have preferred.

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