The arrest of a former DG of Kerala police last week on charges of promoting communal enmity is a case of gross misuse of the law. The state police had booked T.P. Senkumar under Section 153(A) of the IPC, a legal provision against hate speech, for remarks he made in an interview to a Malayalam magazine in July, soon after he retired from service. In the interview, Senkumar presented what appeared to be a prejudiced view of the state’s Muslim community. He claimed that population growth in the state was skewed in favour of Muslims and that a section in the community promoted religious conversion through “love jihad”. Coming from an individual who had led the police force in the state, his views, predictably, stoked a controversy.
Senkumar’s views are undoubtedly controversial, even bigoted. That a person who lacks a nuanced understanding of religion, sensitivity to communal concerns and the complexity of social relations headed the state police is indeed a cause for concern. However, to book him under hate speech provisions is uncalled for. It could be said that Senkumar’s narrow-minded notions of Muslims and Islamist politics in Kerala have a wider resonance in a climate that emboldens majoritarian assertions and encourages intolerance. Yet, such views cannot be banished by wielding hate speech laws. They call for greater political engagement and debate. Skewed ideas about communities will have be confronted with arguments and facts. It is undemocratic to demand the curtailment of the right to freedom of expression by raising the spectre of communal disharmony.
In Senkumar’s case, the police action appears doubly dubious since the former DGP has a fraught relationship with the ruling regime. The Left government had removed him from the DGP’s post after it won the election last year. Senkumar moved the court and was reinstated as DGP on the orders of the Supreme Court ahead of his retirement. Now the criminal case against him rests on slippery ground also because he was booked a month after his remarks appeared in the public domain. Senkumar’s remarks need to be challenged in the public sphere, not through criminal action.