Mr Chandrachud, would you haul DM Aligarh for asking a question to Rana Ayyub?

1st May 2021

1st May 2021

Rana Ayyub

There is little reason not to support the observation of the Supreme Court that “people seeking help on social media” shouldn’t be booked. 

This is what Justice DY Chandrachud observed yesterday: “If citizen ventilates his grievances through social media post, there is no presumption that it’s not genuine. There cannot be and shouldn’t be any clampdown on free speech. If anyone is booked for airing their grievance about non-supply of oxygen, medicines or availability of hospital bed, it would amount to a clampdown and we will treat it as contempt of this court (by the concerned DGP).”

Let’s presume that in the days of PIL—and the honourable judiciary itself is fed up of senseless PILs—a case is filed. It’s a case against the District Magistrate of Aligarh, Chandra Bhushan Singh. The charge is that he has tried to clampdown on a distress tweet by well-known journalist Rana Ayyub with 1.3 million followers on twitter. 

This is the sequence: 

On April 28, at 8.45 pm, Ayyub tweeted: “Just spoke to a local reporter in Aligarh. Close to seventy people have lost their lives since morning due to lack of oxygen in Aligarh alone. This is a carnage. This is a carnage.”

In little over an hour later, same day, Chandra Bhushan Singh tweeted in reply:  “स्थानीय पत्रकार द्वारा जो जानकारी आपको उपलब्ध कराई गई है, कृपया उस पत्रकार का नाम व मो. न. उपलब्ध कराएं अथवा आपके द्वारा जो तथ्य बताए गए हैं उसके संबंध में अस्पताल, मरीजों का नाम, मो. न. आदि विवरण उपलब्ध कराएं ताकि तत्काल प्रभाव से आवश्यक कार्यवाही की जा सके।” (Whatever information has been made available to you by this local reporter, please pass on his name and mobile number. Or please convey the name of patients, mobile numbers, hospitals etc so that immediate action could be taken.)

A full day passes, that is entire April 29th. It’s April 30th and now evening. Rana Ayyub is silent. Her twitter-line shows not a word in response to the plea of Aligarh’s District Magistrate. 

Ayyub finally tweets on 30th evening: “Taaki aap us patrakar ki sampatti zabt kar lein ? Us par dabaav daalein ? Us par case karein ? Kya twitter pe daale unginat video aap dekh nahi rahe ? Agar sach jannna chahte hain, toh zameen par jaayein, Khud pata chal jaayega DM saheb.” (So that you could usurp the assets of that journalist? Put pressure on him? File case against him? Are enough videos on social media not enough. If you want to know the truth, go to ground you would know yourself, Mr DM). 

Now let’s say, a day later, today on May 1, a petition is filed in Supreme Court against the DM of Aligarh and Justice DY Chandrachud himself is in the high chair. Citing the conversation on twitter between Rana Ayyub and the DM Aligarh, the petition says: “Ms Ayyub only tried to tell lack of oxygen has killed 70 people in Aligarh on one morning alone. And the DM, Aligarh could punish her for this tweet.”

First of all, there is nothing in the words of DM Aligarh to suggest an embedded warning. Somebody has made a claim, it comes under the jurisdiction of the District Magistrate, and he wants to get to the bottom of it. Promptly. Isn’t it attendance to duty? It would’ve been dereliction of duty if the DM hadn’t responded to the words of a well-known journalist. 

What do you think the honourable judge should do? Should it haul the DM for “contempt of court”? Or should it ask Rana Ayyub why not back your claim and let the administration do its duty? There is nothing in DM’s words to warrant “contempt of court.” He has not threatened Ayyub. Even if Ayyub didn’t want to give reporter’s number, as a supposedly responsible citizen, she should’ve at least forwarded the dead people’s mobile numbers and details. There is no punitive action any government machinery can take against the dead. 

So should action be taken against Rana Ayyub for being evasive? Could she be told that her tweet, without being backed, is a fit case of fear-mongering and creating an unrest in the society? That it’s a law-and-order situation in these distressing times? More so in a completely polarised district such as Aligarh? Would DM be held for “contempt for court” for asking this simple query to Rana Ayyub. Wouldn’t he be failing in his duty if he doesn’t haul up Ayyub for making unsubstantiated claims. 

India is battling tragedy of immense proportions. It’s also a fact that politician parties are looking to make a meal out of it. Arguably to the glee, if not support, of foreign forces. There is also little denying that these political parties have influence over media and journalists, by way of ideology or favour. Shouldn’t the honourable judiciary add this caveat to their judgement: “Except, in cases, where a deliberate mischief in the name of grievance, has been made.”

Judiciary is human like us. But it should be extremely careful to avoid playing to gallery. By clamping down on authorities, on genuine issues, and give a sweeping judgement in favour of grievances on social media, which could be by trouble-makers, without the interest of society or country at heart, it would be hindering and not helping administration of justice. Mischief-mongers need be dealt with the strictest of hand. Not by putting those hands behind the bars for “contempt of court.”

 

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