Hours after defence analyst Abhijit Iyer-Mitra apologised to an all-party committee of legislators of the Odisha Assembly for his comments on the Sun Temple in Konark, the Bhubaneswar-Cuttack Police arrested him for allegedly insulting Hindu deity Jagannath.
Commissioner of Police Satyajit Mohanty said Iyer-Mitra had been arrested in connection with a criminal case filed against him on September 20 for tweeting last year that the idol of Jagannath in a temple in Puri was actually from Kolkata and it had been stolen “by evil Kalinga demon kings”.
“There was a case pending against him,” Mohanty told The Times of India. “Police found prima facie evidence against him requiring his arrest.”
Iyer-Mitra has been booked under sections of the Indian Penal Code pertaining to obscene acts or words in public, deliberate acts intended to outrage religious feelings, and defamation. He has also been booked under Section 67 of the Information Technology Act for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form, police said.
“The allegation was that he has made certain statements that are derogatory to Lord Jagannath,” Iyer-Mitra’s lawyer Nikhil Mehra told Scroll.in. “In this case, the tweets are over a year old. He meant no disrespect to Lord Jagannath. This was a conversation on how Bengalis and Odiyas fight over common cultural symbols, so it started of with the rasagolla and then Abhijit entered claiming Lord Jagannath was from Calcutta.”
His arrest came hours after he apologised to the state Assembly for the comments he made in a video in September. “I beg apology because of my stupidity,” he said, according to Narasingha Mishra, the chairperson of the panel and leader of the Opposition, The Indian Express reported. He added that Iyer-Mitra has been ordered to appear before the committee again on November 8.
Mishra told reporters that Iyer-Mitra accepted all the charges against him, but the inquiry was incomplete. “He has been asked to submit an affidavit, following which the committee will deliberate on its recommendations to the House,” he added.
Iyer-Mitra was arrested by the Odisha Police in New Delhi last month, days after he posted a video from the Konark temple on Twitter. He was granted bail by a Delhi court after furnishing a surety of Rs 1 lakh and ordered to join the police investigation. But he did not, alleging a threat to his life. He then moved the Supreme Court for protection from arrest since this was grounds for the police to arrest him again. On October 4, the Supreme Court refused to grant him bail, saying that jail was the “safest place” for him.
In the video, pointing to the erotic sculptures of couples in various stages of intimacy at the temple complex, Iyer-Mitra said: “Can this be a holy place? Not at all. This is a conspiracy against Hindus by Muslims who want to keep us down. Jai Sriram. In our new Ram temple, such obscene sculptures will not be there.”
Soon after, in another tweet he clarified that it was a joke. “Jokes aside this temple is just mindblowing,” he wrote. “The sculptures are exquisite & it has a great sense of symmetry & gravitas.” However, after outrage in the Odisha Assembly about his remarks, Iyer-Mitra called the legislators “idiots”.
A change.org petition seeking that the charges against Iyer-Mitra are dropped has got the signatures of several eminent academics and writers.
Corrections and clarifications: The article has been updated to clarify why Abhijit Iyer-Mitra was arrested, and to add his lawyer’s quote.