While the former Shiv Sena trade union leader Kiran Pawaskar filed a case against Mayank Sharma and K .V. Jaganatharao, Air India crew members, last July, the cyber police station acted in May 2012 by arresting the two on a complaint by Sagar Karnik.

Material and conversations from a closed group on Facebook and Orkut was used to indict the two men who are also trade union members of the All India Cabin Crew Association (AICCA). The list of offending items includes a joke shared from another blog, a series of threats and counter threats between the second complainant Mr. Sagar Karnik and Mr. Jaganatharao, and the third was a perceived insult to the national flag.

Mr. Jaganatharao said that the police in their case supplied lists of web links which were mutilated and which did not show the entire conversation. The joke on the politicians was shared by over two lakh people and there was nothing offensive, he said.

Mr. Sharma and Mr. Jaganatharao challenged Shiv Sena leader Kiran Pawaskar’s election as president of the AICCA in 2011. Since he was not a cabin crew member, he was removed from the Union in 2009 but he said he was still heading the union. Again in January 2011 he got himself re-elected as president of the union after the incumbent Bharat Kumar Raut was removed. He went to the Bombay High Court, seeking recognition for his election as president. However, the court instead appointed an election officer to hold organisational elections.

The election officer submitted a failure report to court saying he could not conduct the elections, Mr. Jaganathrao said and added that the signatures endorsing Mr. Pawaskar’s election were fabricated. He and the others went to the Bombay High Court to challenge the election.

On June 6, 2011 Mayank Sharma called for an extraordinary general body meeting with two thirds support of members and while Mr. Pawaskar didn’t cooperate, Mr. Sharma was elected senior vice- president and Mr. Jaganatharao general secretary..

The court didn’t further entertain the matter and the two newly elected members wrote to the management asking for recognition. After more civil suits, finally the Bombay High Court in an order of August 1, 2012 asked the union to hold fresh elections. Mr. Pawaskar told The Hindu that that the union was running under him and from his office. Regarding the elections, he said the management had not given permission.

Mr. Sagar Karnik, assistant treasurer of the AICCA, said that Mr. Sharma’s faction was not recognised by the management.”There is nothing political in this issue. These people were attempting to wage a war against the country using online networks, I have pleaded with them not to do so. There is no personal rivalry,” he said.

Mr. Pawaskar, now a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLC, has been president since 2006 and he controls the union, Mr. Karnik pointed out. He said he was a law abiding citizen of this country and he was ashamed by the kind of filthy language used by Mr. Sharma and Mr. Jaganatharao on the closed group forum. Mr. Jaganatharao was removed from the union in 1995 for his views against the late Sena leader Bal Thackeray, among other things, Mr. Karnik added.

Mr. Jaganatharao said Mr. Karnik, accepted his friend request on Facebook on October 10, 2011 and he had also issued threats to him online after that.

Rajshree , Mr. Jaganathrao’s wife says, “What has happened should not have happened. It’s a clear case of misuse of law and intimidation to harass common people.” While colleagues and family have been the bedrock of support for the two, they are clear it’s a vindictive act by Mr. Pawaskar and his supporters. “He used his political clout to get the police to harass us and put our jobs on the line by getting the police to take away our ID cards and passports,” Mr. Jaganatharao said.

Mr. Sharma said the damage has already been done to their jobs and they won’t get back those 12 days in jail. “Why should I have to go to court and get my passport back? This is a case of misusing the law and the whole thing was orchestrated to bring us to our knees,” he said. Mr. Sharma’s wife is traumatised by a doorbell even now and life can never be the same again. For Mr. Jaganatharao the worst memory will be the police cutting his gold wedding ring which he has worn for 23 years. “No gold is allowed in the lockup and my ring wouldn’t come off, so before they put me inside I had to be taken to a jeweller and have the ring cut to take it off.” He has the ring back but he is not going to join the cut ends.

Sarim Naved, lawyer from New Delhi said an arrest was not called for in such cases. An arrest is needed only when you think the suspects will run away or not cooperate with investigation. He said the charge sheet should have been filed within 90 days.

The duo were charged under Section 66 A of the IT act which relates to publishing any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device, or any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages. The punishment is imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.

They were also charged under Section 67 of the IT act which punished whoever publishes or transmits or causes to be published in the electronic form, any material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect is such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons. Section 67A of the IT act relates to publishing material containing sexually explicit acts in electronic form and punishment for the same. Section 506 (2) of the Indian Penal Code says whoever commits, the offence of criminal intimidation shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both. The other charge is Section 2 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour act 1971 which relates to mutilation, burning, defiling of the Indian National Flag or Constitution which shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

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