Dr. Ambikesh Mahapatra, a chemistry professor at the Jadavpur University, was attacked and beaten by alleged members of the Trinamool Congress party, the political party holding power in West Bengal, after Professor Mahapatra forwarded a satirical cartoon bearing the image of Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee, a Trinamool Congress party member. Professor Mahapatra further alleged that the Trinamool Congress party members forced him to prepare and sign an apology indicating that he was a Communist Party of India-Marxist activist, and that his decision to distribute the cartoon was motivated by this fact.
After the beating, Dr. Mahapatra was arrested by Purba Jadavpur police officers and detained for 16 hours. He was charged with three crimes: humiliating and insulting the modesty of a woman, defamation and sending offensive messages through a computer. The former two charges were subsequently dropped, while the charge of sending offensive messages through a computer (Section 66A of India’s Information and Technology Act) remained.
No arrests were made in connection with Dr. Mahapatra’s beating.
In the months following the incident, the West Bengal Human Rights Commission issued a recommendation that the West Bengal Government compensate Dr. Mahapatra for the harm done to him, and that proceedings be brought against the police responsible for his arrest. The West Bengal government, however, rejected this recommendation, and, as of this report, Dr, Mahapatra continues to seek compensation from the West Bengal government, alleging that his human rights have been violated.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the imprisonment and prosecution of a scholar based on his exercise of protected human rights such as freedom of expression. Scholars at Risk is also concerned about violent attacks against a scholar in apparent retaliation against the exercise of such rights. Violent attacks, arrest and imprisonment in retaliation for scholars’ exercise of protected human rights undermine the higher education sector and democratic society generally.