Sir — The arrest of two college students in Maharashtra over the controversy generated by a Facebook post was disgraceful (“Thou shalt not moan, just mourn”, Nov 20). It summarily violated the right to freedom of speech, and therefore, the spirit of the Constitution. From the conduct of the police and the government, it seemed as if this freedom is reserved only for a few privileged people. Even the departed leader, Bal Thackeray, would probably not have supported the arrest. When the very administrators of a democracy violate its basic principles, democracy becomes meaningless.
Satyananda Bhattacherjee, Kharagpur
Sir — Some time back, a college professor in Bengal was arrested for circulating online a graphic that was allegedly derogatory towards the chief minister. A cartoonist, Aseem Trivedi, was arrested, and later released, in Mumbai on charges of sedition. A businessman from Puducherry was arrested for a tweet he wrote against the son of the Union finance minister, P. Chidambaram. The arrest of the two college students in Maharashtra is a similar incident.
That Indian politicians are a touchy lot is a well-known fact. It is becoming increasingly clear that they cannot stomach even a hint of criticism. They must realize that the social media are here to stay and that there will always be people who will voice their views on current affairs and issues. If political leaders compel law-enforcing agencies to make unjustified arrests, their plan will only backfire.
J. Akshobhya, Mysore
Sir — Several Shiv Sainiks vandalized a clinic owned by the uncle of one of the girls arrested over a controversial Facebook post. The vandals were arrested and later granted bail by a local court. This is a clear pointer to the condition of the law-enforcement agents in Maharashtra. It is evident that the police force in the state is heavily influenced by political leaders and extremists.
In order to uphold the freedom of speech and expression, the girls should have been given the scope to defend their stand. But they were too traumatized after the arrest and had also been forced to apologize.
Manoj R. Kumar, New Delhi
Sir — A massive hue and cry over a remark posted on Facebook can only be expected when the group it is directed at is unsure about itself (“Free to speak”, Nov 21). The ‘offenders’ are taken to task because the offended party is not confident enough of its beliefs and policies.
This is not the first instance of the violation of the freedom of speech in India. Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses was banned. Taslima Nasreen has been forced to flee India and live in exile. James Laine’s biography of the founder of the Maratha empire, Shivaji, was banned in Maharasthra because it allegedly belittled Shivaji. Recently, a lot of controversy was generated over an old cartoon featuring Jawaharlal Nehru and B.R. Ambedkar. It was shameful that the cartoon, which had not been considered objectionable by Nehru or Ambedkar, was being given a twisted interpretation for political gains.
Instead of boasting about being the world’s largest democracy, India should first learn to be tolerant and appreciate the essence of democracy. The country should be ashamed of itself for failing to safeguard the spirit of the Constitution in the context of the arrest of the two students in Maharashtra.
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur
Sir — It is shocking to know that the drug pricing policy recently approved by the Union cabinet is likely to make medicines expensive for consumers (“Ache over pill prices”, Nov 23). Such a step is ridiculous in a country where good healthcare facilities are largely beyond the reach of a large section of people. The Constitution envisages a welfare state, where the government is expected to stand by the people. But the healthcare sector, in its present state, is steeped in corruption. Patients are treated almost like commodities in private hospitals and nursing homes. Drug manufacturers allegedly bribe doctors to sell their products, most of which are exhorbitantly priced.
In such a situation, the government has chosen to determine the cost of medicines based on the market prices of drugs rather than on the actual costs of manufacturing medicines. The Supreme Court had earlier suggested that the pricing formula based on the manufacturing cost of drugs should be followed. The government’s sudden decision to act on this issue now and its apparent concern for the aam admi seem like attempts to reap electoral gains.
Srikanta Bhattacharjee, Calcutta