Noam Chomsky, others bat for professors, write to PM

Four days after being forced to spend a night in a city police station for forwarding an e-mail containing a graphic with images of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and other Trinamool Congress leaders, Ambikesh Mahapatra, a professor at Jadavpur University, said here on Monday that he feared for his security and his family's.

“I fear for my security, but even more for that of my family,” Dr. Mahapatra told TheHindu . In the group that assaulted him for forwarding the email, Dr. Mahapatra was able to recognise four persons and named them in a police complaint he filed on Saturday. All of them were arrested, but released on bail shortly afterwards. The incident, which sparked a public outrage, occurred less than two weeks after another academician, Partho Sarothi Ray, an assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) in Kolkata, was arrested. Dr. Ray, who is now in jail and will be produced before a court on April 26, was among the 69 persons apprehended by the police during a protest against a slum eviction carried out in the Nonadanga area in the eastern fringes of the city.

Seven persons, including Dr. Ray, were not released and the police allege that some of them have links with the Maoists. Their legal counsel has pointed out that while the prosecution said they were involved in stockpiling arms, “nothing but bricks and stones” were found in the course of the police investigation.

The incidents involving the two academicians have triggered a widespread campaign with eminent scholars, who include Noam Chomsky, pointing out that they demonstrate how “the apparatus of the State is using the law and its modes of intimidation” to stifle voices of protest.

More than 50 academicians from national and international universities, social activists and human rights lawyers have written a joint letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking his intervention and urging that all “dubious charges” against the two be dropped.

“We are extremely perturbed by such use of State force in cracking down on human rights activists, and citizens attempting to raise issues of concern related to some of the poorest and most vulnerable people of our country or for actions such as forwarding cartoons,” the letter dated April 15 states.

It says Dr. Ray is “an established scientist in the field of molecular biology and his research findings have been published in international journals. It is frightening to note that instead of taking action against the assaulters, the police arrested Dr. Mahapatra.” Referring to the slum eviction without rehabilitation of the inhabitants, it points out that Dr. Ray participated in a peaceful demonstration, a part of “a natural protest against this unjustified police action.”