Over the last few years, there has been a steady, steely rise in the Indian government’s grip on its social image. Increasingly, individuals, particularly from media and film making community are being withheld or detained for putting out images, videos or essentially any content on social platforms that is not in sync with the government’s public perception of their image. The latest in line here is Avinash Das.
Who is Avinash Das
Avinash is an Indian filmmaker, mostly revered for helming the well-received movie Anaarkali of Aarah, which was released in 2017. Besides this film, Das has also directed the popular Netflix series She, which is being renewed for season 3, ZEE5 movie Raat Baaki Hai and MX Player series Runaway Lugaai. Hailing from Darbhanga, Bihar, he currently resides in Mumbai. Before switching professions, Das had worked as a media reporter for 20 years. Previously, he was also associated with Aamir Khan’s popular social TV series, Satyamev Jayate.
Das has been booked under the Indian Penal Code (IPC)’s section 469 for tweeting a photo that showed Amit Shah, Union Home Minister with IAS Pooja Singhal, an official accused of corruption. Ms. Singhal was arrested in earlier May in a case of money laundering. Although she denies all allegations, her innocence has been widely discounted. Raids at Singhal’s house revealed Rs 19 crores in cash. And this is not her first brush with government funds misappropriation. During 2009-10, when she was posted in Khunti, Jharkhand, she was on the investigation radar for displacing Rs 18 crore worth of MGNREGA funds. During the process, as many as 16 FIRs were lodged against her.
As for Das, the Gujarat Police claimed that in an FIR filed at DCB police station in Ahmedabad on May 13, the filmmaker was booked for forgery to harm the reputation of a person, misleading the public to tarnish Mr. Shah’s reputation.
In the same FIR, Das was also booked under the sections of prevention of insult to national honor act for allegedly sharing a “morphed picture of a woman wearing a tricolor” on Facebook in March.
To get ahead of the issue and avoid arrest, the filmmaker had approached the high court in Gujarat in June to get pre-arrest bail beforehand, but his plea was rejected. Das had moved the Gujarat High Court with the offer of issuing an unconditional apology for the social media posts, but the court rejected it and ruled that it is “prima facie clear that the act (of allegedly insulting the national flag)” was “deliberate and not unintentional”. He was arrested in Mumbai city. He has now approached the Supreme Court which will hear his petition on Friday.
Section 469 in The Indian Penal Code
This section of IPC, under which Das has been indicted, deals with forgery for the purpose of harming reputation. Per it, “Whoever commits forgery, shall harm the repu¬tation of any party, or knowing that it is likely to be used for that purpose, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine. In addition, he has also been charged with the IT Act, since the forged image was posted online. There have also been rumors of Das circulating fake news, because of which he has been arrested.
Such cases, which are often seen as damaging to the reputation of high-placed political honchos have become more commonplace over the last decade. In 2012, Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra was arrested for forwarding a cartoon on Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her associates. Till date, the legal battle around it rages on, with no conclusion in sight.