Mamata’s Muzzling Tactics

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Shyamal Ray, who runs an SMS newsletter, is being subjected to repeated police questioning

KOLKATA ~ On 30 July, Kolkata resident Dr Shyamal Ray received a summon to meet the Superintendent of Police, South 24 Parganas, on 5 August. “It was possibly the fifth or sixth time big bosses in the force remembered me during the last one year,” says the 72-year-old doctor and human rights activist, who has been running an alternative media network since 2010.

Dodhichi is a text messaging service circulating information generally unavailable in the mainstream media. Alerting civil society groups to human rights concerns, the free service has over 700,000 subscribers. A text message to and from Dodhichi ensures quick mobilisation of activists when needed. Dodhichi’s operations arguably benefitted Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress by facilitating the opposition consolidation against the Left Front government.

But Banerjee’s government has little patience for dissent in its turn. Two plainclothed policemen landed up at Ray’s place on 11 November 2011. After introducing themselves as patients, they demanded information about one of his SIM cards. Ray furnished a list of all 52 but refused to divulge more until they brought a written order. His well-wishers complained to the National Human Rights Commission and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Meanwhile, Banerjee proclaimed her displeasure with alternative media mobilisations in the wake of an anti-eviction movement in Kolkata. Soon after, on 9 April 2012, Ray found all his 52 SIM cards deactivated. A pro-government Bengali daily attributed it to instructions from government authorities even as the police blamed the service provider. Ray carried on with new SIM cards. “I have nothing to hide,” he says. “Every SIM card is registered in my name and they can always find me here at my study,” he says.

Madan Mitra, the state transport minister, complained on 16 July that he got a death threat in the form of a Dodhichi message. The message expressed concern at Mitra nurturing a Gestapo-like formation persecuting every dissenter as a Maoist. It lamented that (if his moves passed unopposed) ‘the last day would be most horrible’, referring at worst to the Nazi idea of the Final Solution. One can understand Mitra’s discomfiture with the Nazi analogy. But it is hard to decipher a threat to his life in this text.

Ray has refused in writing to comply with that summon to the office of the SP.