When people switched off the lights for nine minutes at 9pm on April 5, as per Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to display the country’s “collective resolve” to defeat novel coronavirus, 52-year-old Charanjit Singh Sidhu chose to keep all the lights on at his residence in Sunder Nagar town of Himachal Pradesh’s Mandi district.
He also made a video pitting PM’s message against the lack of sufficient personal protection equipment (PPE) kits at hospitals. He was soon booked for allegedly “insulting” PM and spreading false claims through the video. Today, he also stares at a departmental action from his employer.
“I am keeping the lights on to protest Modi’s irrational, irresponsible and senseless talk. I have switched on even this light that I otherwise never use. Corona will not go away by banging the plates, clapping or ringing bells or by lighting the candles…Our doctors without PPE kits are treating patients and are wearing raincoats instead. There are no ventilators at hospitals and no arrangements for ICUs,” Sidhu, an employee of Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB), a government entity, is seen stating in the video.
“Tahunu lagda hai thaali, taali ganti naal pehlaan corona bola ho gaya si, tae hun moombatiyan jagaun te light band karan na(al) anaa hojuga (You think coronavirus became hearing impaired due to clappin, banging of plates and ringing bells and now it will go blind by switching off the lights),” he asks in chaste Punjabi.
The video shared by him on WhatsApp among his contacts soon found a way to social media and went viral. The Mandi Police on April 10 booked him under IPC Sections 188 (Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) and 500 (defamation) as well as Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act (false warning). SHO BSL, Sunder Nagar police station Prakash Singh told The Indian Express that Sidhu has already been granted bail after he appeared before the police.
“He made the video viral. We registered a case on our own after we received the video,” Singh told The Indian Express. Asked why Sidhu was booked under Section 500 IPC, Singh said, “He has spoken against the Prime Minister.”
Sidhu in the video is also seen sarcastically asking that if COVID-19 patients could get cured by such acts by public, then why should they be put in quarantine and isolation. “Take all of them out and gather around them… clap, bang the plates, ring the bells and light the candles with them. Read the mantras too and corona itself will get destroyed,” he says in the video, while also demanding basic facilities and taking over of private hospitals by the State. Sidhu is also heard terming PM’s calls as “useless show off” and demanding bodygear for doctors.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Sidhu, who hails from Punjab’s Sangrur district, said he came to know about case only when a show cause notice was served on him by the BBMB a day after registration of the FIR.
”When PM Ji announced the lockdown, it was necessary and I supported it because it was for our safety. I had no bad intentions when I made the video but I saw how the calls for such acts led to violations each time like bursting crackers and coming out on streets by people. It was also attempted at self promotion. The fundamental duty under Article 51A is to develop scientific temper and I have the right to criticize too under the constitution but within the limits of law,” Sidhu said.
Sidhu, who is also a leader of the employees union, added that he wanted to highlight the lack of PPE kits too. “I saw on TV that many hospitals in Delhi do not have PPE kits for doctors and nurses. There were interviews too and many doctors also protested the lack of equipment. The FIR is a vendetta against me,” he said.
Soon after registration of the FIR, the Special Secretary of the BBMB asked the Chief Engineer in Sunder Nagar to ”investigate the matter and submit a detailed report “along with action taken/proposed to be taken” against Sidhu. A show cause notice was issued on April 11 to him. “It is a routine procedure to call for a report regarding an employee. We need to know about our employee,” BBMB Special Secretary Anil Gautam told The Indian Express.
Sidhu said he has replied to the show cause notice but says he is not hopeful of justice. “It is an attempt by the BBMB chairman to harass me and please his political bosses. Despite lockdown, the notice was issued within hours to me. It is an excessive action both by the police and my department. I have not violated any order nor spoken ill against Modiji. I am a common citizen and not a political leader. How can I defame a person like Prime Minister?,” he asked.
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