A professor of journalism at the University of Mysore, BP Mahesh Chandra Guru, spent almost a week in judicial custody for calling Lord Rama a "loafer".

Guru was remanded to judicial custody on June 18 under Section 295(a) of the Indian Penal Code, which “prohibits deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs”.

The first complaint against Guru was filed by CV Ravishanker of little-known Hindu outfit Karunada Rakshana Vedike in January 2015, which alleged that Guru called Lord Rama a "loafer" at a function organised at the University of Mysuru campus while he was speaking at an event to honour Dalit leader BR Ambedkar. Ravishanker said he was not present at the event and his complaint was filed on the basis of newspaper reports.

It was followed by another complaint by Premkumar and others of the Hindu Jagarana Vedike in February 2015, which alleged that Guru allegedly made derogatory remarks, while speaking at a seminar organised by the Bahujan Vidhyarthi Sangha, a Dalit student outfit, on the subject of how Hinduism treats Dalits.

Guru forgot about these two cases against him, said a close confidante, and did not respond to court summons.

On June 18, a Mysuru court sent him to judicial custody. Guru was granted bail on June 22 in the first case and on June 24 in the second one.

Derogatory and criminal?

The Karnataka branch of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties has now taken up Guru’s case and written to the state government asking it to take cognisance of the developments citing “freedom of expression”, asking it to prevent the harassment of intellectuals and academics at the hands of “police and fundamentalists”.

The police should use their wisdom to proceed with such complaints, the PUCL state chief V Lakshminarayan told Scroll. The Mysuru police, he claimed, filed the First Information Report and charge sheet without verifying the credentials of the complainants.

“Firstly, police and administration should have verified whether the remarks were criminal in nature and how they are derogatory,” Lakshminarayan said. “And secondly they should have respected the freedom of expression of an individual who, in this case, is a university - that too, a journalism – teacher,” he added. “Police have failed to verify whether the complainant was a member of the audience,” Lakshminarayan pointed out, asking how the police could accept a complaint from an outsider who did not even attend the function.

The police was either refusing to apply their minds, Lakshminarayan said, or has inadvertently “become RSS-ised”, he added, while pointing to the recent incidents of harassment of intellectuals in the state. “I have written to the state government to direct the SHRC [State Human Rights Commission] to take up all these cases and decide, instead of allowing police to take decisions,” he said. “In India, subjecting individuals to the judicial process itself amounts to a lot of mental and physical harassment,” he added.

Rationalist and activist PV Nanjaraj Urs criticised the police and the government for taking action against people like Guru simply for expressing their opinions. “This shows growing intolerance among people and authorities,” said Urs. “The government is playing to the gallery.”

Intolerance is not restricted to only such “fundamentalist elements”, Urs pointed out.

Two years ago, then minister Srinivasa Prasad (who was recently dropped from the state cabinet) and his followers, protested against then Karnataka Advocate General Ravi Verma Kumar’s speech at the University of Mysore, Urs recalled. Kumar had criticised BR Ambedkar for failing to include Gram Swaraj and rural development while drafting the Constitution, adding that these terms were only included after the late Chief Minister Kengal Hanumanthiah presented a paper to Ambedker pointing this error out.

Urs emphasised the need to “agreeing to disagree”. “If one criticises Ambedkar, Dalits will rise, if another criticises Rama, Hindu forces will stand up and protest. If one floats some rationalist and progressive ideas, the orthodox lot will dissent,” he said angrily. “Can we claim to be members of a civilized society?” he asked. The state government has not commented on the issue so far.

Not the first time`

In the early 1990s, the late Professor MD Nanjundaswamy, a legal scholar and the founder of the farmers’ movement in Karnataka, had called the then chief minister of the state a “loafer” on the floor of the state Assembly.

The word caused an uproar within Kannada political circles but Nanjundaswamy would not back down. He asked his critics to show him whether the word was “derogatory and unparliamentary”.

Nanjundaswamy defended his use of the word “loafer” and claimed that a loafer is one who sits idle or roams aimlessly. How can this word be called “unparliamentary”? he asked. The late Professor refused to apologise for his use of the word against the chief minister and government.