Chennai/Tuticorin: Louis Sophia, the 28-year-old research scholar arrested for shouting anti-BJP slogans on board a flight to Tuticorin, was released on unconditional bail by a court on Tuesday, even as a fierce political battle broke out in Tamil Nadu and on the social media with the DMK and other opposition parties condemning the arrest as "yet another example" of saffron intolerance towards dissent and a threat to freedom of expression.
While the BJP hit back arguing that freedom of expression does not permit breaking law by shocking the passengers inside an aircraft, the AIADMK defended the police action in arresting Sophia.
"Freedom of expression does not mean you can say anything, anywhere. There are designated places where one can express views, even strongly dissenting views. That's permitted in democracy, but not the conduct of this person (Sophia) on a flight", said senior state minister D. Jayakumar, who is convinced that Sophia did her in-flight act "only for media publicity".
"If you allow this sort of sloganeering inside an aircraft, you could next witness demonstrators shouting slogans and preventing leaders of any party from entering public places even to discharge their duties. Political leaders could then face security threat", said the minister.
He was particularly annoyed with DMK chief MK Stalin slamming the BJP and its state president Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan for Sophia's arrest and remand custody.
"The central BJP government is crushing freedom of expression and the state government is aiding it. This is regrettable," he said in a statement. Condemning Sofia's "hasty arrest", Stalin recalled the Supreme Court's observation, on the recent arrest of Left-wing activists, that dissent was a "safety valve" in a democracy. "In a democratic country, a citizen can criticise not just the BJP government but that of any party and the state BJP chief's action amounts to infringing on that freedom," said the DMK chief.
BJP state secretary K T Raghavan rubbished the DMK attack, arguing: "Will Stalin permit it if someone shouted at Karunanidhi's Samadhi at Marina saying here rests a man who wrecked the Tamil race? And then claim he is only exercising his freedom of expression? She (Sophia) violated law, breached peace inside the aircraft in a threatening manner. And our leader (Tamilisai) responded in a proper and legal manner in lodging a police complaint. You (DMK) support the law-breaker and slam the one who went by norms".
MNM founder-president and actor Kamal Haasan, AMMK's TTV Dhinakaran and CPI-M Politburo member G Ramakrishnan also denounced Sophia's arrest as an assault on the freedom of expression. Some said Dr Tamilisai could have acted in "a mature and magnanimous manner" by calling Sophia aside after the arrival at Tuticorin and "counseled her in a soft manner". That way, she might have even changed the 'hostile attitude' of the woman, they argued. It's unlikely that the debate will die down in a hurry.
Obtaining bail in the public nuisance case registered against Louis Sophia for disrupting peace inside the aircraft and at Thoothukudi airport by shouting, ‘Fascist BJP government down down,’ has given no relief to the girl’s family, as the BJP will object to the bail granted by the higher court. BJP advocates also demanded registering a case under civil aviation rules (CAR).
Magistrate Ms. Tamilselvi took up the bail plea submitted by 16 lawyers on Tuesday for Louis Sophia. The latter was remanded to custody and was made to stay the previous night at the Thoothukudi government medical college hospital as a patient so as to keep her from jail.
Before granting her bail, the magistrate condemnd Sophia’s father for her unruly behaviour. He was asked to advise his daughter in the future.
The girl’s father Dr A A Samy, who seemed confident on Monday evening when his daughter was brought to the court, however, looked frightened on Tuesday. While coming out of the court after obtaining bail for his daughter, Dr Samy expressed his apprehension that the Thoothukudi police might try to impound his daughter’s passport. He said, “We surrendered the old passport which was already expired and have the renewed new passport in a safe place.”