Arrested For Rant Over Traffic Restrictions, Bengal Men Released On Bail

Anupam Tarafder and Debajit Roy, residents of Balurghat in West Bengal, were arrested for expressing their frustration on Facebook over traffic restrictions.

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People protested the arrests of two Balurghat men saying it hurt free speech rights.


Kolkata:  Next time you complain about traffic jams on Twitter, just remember the fate that has befallen Balurghat's Anupam Tarafder and Debajit Roy.

A bank official and a businessman, they had cribbed on Facebook about traffic restrictions imposed by police during Durga Puja in their town, about 400 km north of Kolkata. And they ended up getting arrested Thursday.

For some, they are free speech heroes. But bail on Sunday was a huge relief. Relief, however, may be short-lived at Trinamool workers marched in a rally through Balurghat Monday labeling the two men political stooges of the Left and the BJP which they claimed are "uniting" against them.

Debajit Roy had gone pandal-hopping on September 28 in the pujas and had to wait for 55 minutes for public transport in vain. He had his seven month pregnant wife and an 18 month old child with him. Two-wheelers and four wheelers had been restricted in many areas and rickshaws were in short supply.

His post on Facebook about his travails went viral. Many other Balurghat residents commented. Most were critical. Police felt some were plain offensive.

Anupam Tarafder joined the Facebook debate. As did many others. But police suddenly filed a suo moto case naming five men in the FIR, including Tarafdar and Roy.

Police claim three of those FIR named came to the police station as summoned and apologised for their offensive comments. Roy and Tarafdar did not. The police claim they were therefore forced to arrest them on October 19. The police asked for 14 days police custody but two days later, the two men got bail. "But the probe is continuing in the political links of the two men," said senior police sources, "and a larger design to create public disorder by using offensive language."

In fact, some police sources claim Roy was a Left student union leader when in college and Tarafdar is associated with the Left employees association of the bank he works in. These claims could not be independently verified.

"I have nothing to say today except it's a victory for democracy," Mr Tarafdar said after getting bail. Debajit Roy's wife, Priyadarshini, said, "I fully support my husband. If he is punished, then it is proof that there is no free speech in this country anymore."

This is not the first such incident in Bengal. Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra, arrested in 2012 for emailing cartoons of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, is backing Anupam and Debajit.

"Police can explain everything the way they like, but what they have done is attacked freedom of speech," he said. "I am very happy people in Balurghat protested their arrests on Friday though they were ultimately not allowed to. But people are becoming conscious of their rights," he added.

Prof Mahapatra has offered to consult with the two beleaguered Balurghat men on legal steps.


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