The hounding of a professor of the VM Salgaocar College of Law by right-wing elements and the subsequent filing of an FIR by the Panaji police reeks of state-sponsored harassment of a law college professor who was only expressing an opinion in a post of Facebook that wasn't even publicly accessible to people who were not her friends.
A brief recap: Shilpa Singh a lecturer of political science at the V M Salgaocar College of Law was booked by the Panaji police under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code for her post which one Ravi Jha of the Rashtriya Hindu Yuva Vahini, has said was offensive to religious sensibilities. This, completely ignoring the fact that her post was essentially private and meant only for her friends and not on a public platform where everyone could be reading it.
In her post, Shilpa had spoken out against the mangalsutra and the burqa which she said were patriarchal symbols worn by Hindu and Muslim women. Shilpa has since explained herself saying she has always wondered "why we have exclusive marital status symbols for women and not for the men in various cultural practices."
Booking a person, and a college lecturer no less, for holding progressive views but because some conservative-minded persons believe it to be offensive is not only a bad precedent but also clearly a move to intimidate and subjugate. To a large extent, the move has succeeded in the absence of any protection the state has given her. If a college lecturer and that too one in a law college isn't allowed to initiate debates, then who can?
Shilpa was forced to take to Facebook expressing fears about her safety after she received hate messages threatening to unleash the mob upon her. Besides the support of a few academics and some of her students, no one has publicly come to her aid. Her college leadership, while initially defending her by writing back to the Maharashtra ABVP unit which had sought her dismissal, is yet to come out publicly in her support. Her students too, while privately expressing support and even willing to keep watch outside her home in case anyone decides to take the law into their own hands, are now reluctant to speak on record fearing reprisals from their professors of the same college.
It is in times like these one realizes how hollow the state's and society's claims of protecting individual rights are. The need of the hour is for those in government, the establishment as well as society at large to express solidarity with her. While not everyone may agree with her, she is entitled the right to express her views -- which are by no stretch of imagination anything close to derogatory to any religion -- except in the minds of a few riotous elements.
Any silence would amount to an endorsement of these elements' tactics to dictate the narrative in an otherwise harmonious society that believes in the rule of law, respect for contrary opinions and civilized debate.