Will Indians now get arrested and convicted for raising a voice? This is the question Indian Twitter users asked after news came in today from the Indian state of Gujarat that the Jamnagar Court had sentenced Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Sanjiv Bhatt and co-accused to life imprisonment in a 1989 custodial death case.
The custodial death case dates back to 1989 when he was posted as the Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP) in the Jamnagar district. He had detained approximately 150 people during a communal riot and one of those arrested, Prabhudas Vaishnani, died in hospital after his release.
For the world’s largest democracy, Bhatt’s arrest is a big deal. It became one of the top trending discussions on Twitter in India as people started challenging the court’s decision saying that Bhatt is only paying for being critical of the ruling BJP’s alleged role in deadly anti-Muslim riots in 2002.
The former controversial police officer had alleged that Prime Minister Modi, who was at that time the chief minister of Gujarat, during the riots in the state, told officials that Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger against Muslims.
More than 1,000 people were killed in the violence. But, Modi has always denied any wrongdoing, and was cleared by the court of law, too.
Bhatt was suspended in 2011 on charges of remaining absent from duty without permission and misuse of official vehicles, and later sacked in August 2015.
Some said Bhatt deserved the sentence.
Tweep @Antaraatma1 posted: “Hey Shama, that thug sanjiv bhatt deserves life imprisonment for custodial death. Praise the courts, hail the decision and call Sanjiv Bhatt...”
And, @jainil1 tweeted: “Great news... Crook @sanjivbhatt gets life imprisonment for custodial death!”
But for many, this was injustice.
A question many asked - is new India silencing the voice of its citizens?
Twitter user @MehreenAlam_ highlighted: “It’s #SanjivBhatt today. It can be anyone tomorrow. Someone who’d raise their voice against unemployment, water scarcity, inflation or anything will be silenced. It’s not about Sanjiv Bhatt only. It’s about all of you.”
In India, where debates about delayed court cases and delayed justice are common @WhirlingDervesh raised an important question - why were other important cases not being dealt with such urgency? The tweep posted: “Most importantly I am surprised #SanjeevBhatt convicted in a 30-year-old case, filed last year... some justice... and so fast no match!”
Twitter user @javedsh added: “It’s really unfortunate that #SanjeevBhatt has been given life imprisonment for a custodial death 30 years ago and the one who should have got life imprisonment for killing six people is sitting in parliament.”
He was referring to Bhopal Member of Parliament (MP), Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, who is accused of participating in a 2008 communal attack that killed six people and injured more than 100 others. She spent nine years in detention over the charge and is still awaiting a trial for terrorism and criminal conspiracy after being granted bail on medical grounds in 2017.
Still a democracy
Earlier today, a UK-based Indian rapper was arrested and charged with sedition for her remarks against current Chief Minister (CM) of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath.
Journalist @RanaAyyub tweeted: “Where are we headed?”
And, @FarhanaCvg added: “#SanjeevBhatt and #HardKaur got reprimanded because they spoke against the system. Anyone who tries to question the government is labelled either a traitor or is put behind bars. Should we just stop questioning? Are we still a democracy? Seems silencing the voices is the new tool.”