Bengaluru, Oct 18: In the month of August, Supreme Court while taking a grim view of the 213 defamation cases filed by the Tamil Nadu government, had said that criticism of a government does not mandate that a defamation case be filed.
It also said that if someone terms the government unfit or corrupt, it does not automatically make out a case for defamation.
Speaking of excessive or arbitrary action, the situation in Tamil Nadu is quite grim today. There are over 40 cases that have been filed against people for rumour mongering about Tamil Nadu chief minister, J Jayalalithaa's health.
While in many of these cases action has been taken against people for uploading fake photographs and spreading rumours about Jayalalithaa on the social media, the October 13 case in Coimbatore was stretched too far.
The case was booked on a complaint by an AIADMK party member who claimed that she overheard two people mocking about the CM's health.
To spread rumours is one thing and to discuss is another. Cases are being filed in Tamil Nadu based on a mere statement by AIADMK workers.
Several people that OneIndia spoke to question the action of the police. There has been no medical bulletin in a week. There is no clarity on the CM's health. She is the Chief Minister of our state and we do have every right to know about her health, they say.
Merely discussing her health has also become an issue. Moreover how does one decide whether the tone of the discussion was mocking or not. In the Coimbatore case, it was clear that the police just took the version of the complainant because she is from the ruling party, they point out.
Legal experts say that the police does have the right to stop rumour mongers in a bid to ensure law and order is maintained in the state. However, in the Coimbatore case the police stretched it a bit too far.
"Action was initiated based on a complaint. Where is the investigation?" The advocate says that the police must first probe before it decides to act. "This is completely arbitrary," the advocate adds.
In Coimbatore, a banker and a jeweller were discussing about Jayalalithaa's health. Punitha Devi, the complainant alleged that she overheard them speaking and mocking at Jayalalithaa's health. She gave a complaint and the police immediately acted.
The police did not bother to check the CCTV footage. Punitha claims that when she told them not to speak about the CM, they threatened her. There appears to be no evidence of this on the CCTV footage. Then on what basis were these people sent to judicial custody?
The people are getting terribly anxious. There have been no medical bulletins. The people read about critical care experts being flown in. Further what has added to the anxiety is that none of the VIPs, who have visited the hospital, been allowed to meet her. Be it Arun Jaitley, Amit Shah or Rahul Gandhi, each one had to return after speaking to the doctors.
The entire machinery is tight lipped. Even a petition in the court seeking details of her health was thrown out after the Madras High Court termed it as a publicity interest litigation.
People feel that the court at least could have been more pro-active and had some directive been issued all the speculation around the health of the CM would have ended.
This brings us to the question about a person's right to privacy. Every individual is entitled to his or her privacy. However, in the case of a public figure and especially a political head of the state, there information should be made available. This would go a long way in ensuring that rumour mongering and speculation ends.
It may also be recalled that cadres of the party have tried attempted selling-immolation. There are bizarre rituals being followed. One ritual at R K Nagar had children with their bodies pierced walking in procession.
Meanwhile, to add more confusion there is the police which is on a filing spree. How can questions not be asked.
One police officer explains- "It is a delicate situation. We do not want law and order going out of hand. It is a difficult time for a lot of people."
"Rumour mongering and speculation at this time does not do any good. Our actions are precautionary," the police officer also adds.