This is a disturbing and stark reminder of how much India lags behind the US in free speech.
The cyber cell of the Pune police on Saturday arrested one more suspect for allegedly uploading obscene and derogatory text about Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on a social networking site.
The suspect has been identified as Nithin Chakravarti Suresh Sajja (22) of Begumpeth, Hyderabad. Earlier the crime branch had arrested Rahul Krishnakumar Vaid (22), an IT professional of Gurgaon on May 17.
The Information Technology Act under which the suspect was arrested has been previously used against other people for writing derogatory things about Bal Thackeray, Ambedkar and Shivaji.
Why would this not happen in the United States?
The only law that could conceivably apply in such a scenario in the US is defamation. In order to qualify as defamation under American law, a statement must be both false and injurious to the reputation of an individual. Furthermore, when public figures are involved, the burden is on the accuser to prove malicious intent.
Perhaps the most important qualifier in the above paragraph is the word ‘false’. By definition, opinions cannot be true or false, because they are, well, opinions. Thus, an opinion, however offensive or disgusting, is not legally actionable. A statement that on literal reading is factual but is really just an opinion (e.g “She is a bitch”) is also safe from prosecution.
It seems highly likely that in this particular case, the poor guy currently behind bars was just expressing his opinions about Sonia Gandhi in colorful language. It is also likely that whatever statement he posted did not do any real harm to Ms. Gandhi’s reputation. Thus, if this were the US, the idea that he could be arrested for such an offence would be almost laughable. There is no shortage of offensive humor here against political leaders (check out the Hillary nutcracker) or celebrities in general (in a South Park episode, Paris Hilton is depicted as stuffing a pineapple into her vagina) and no one is ever arrested for such things.
A second point, I think, is also worth mentioning. Defamation in the US and many other countries is a civil offence, meaning you can be fined for it but not jailed (a few American states still have criminal defamation statutes, but they are almost never enforced). Thus, even if the defamation law did apply to the Sonia Gandhi episode above (that is, if Nithin had made explicit false statements about her), it would not result in jail time.