On June 1, 2020, the Jamia Millia Islamia administration sent showcause notices to three students for sharing a post on Instagram.
“It has come to our notice that few anti social elements have posted some offensive, indecent, unscrupulous and filthy content about Hon’ble Prime Minister of India on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram pages dragging Jamia Millia Islamia and its administration,” the notice reads.
‘Mehfil_e_jamia,’ an Instagram page, had shared a photo of Jamia Vice Chancellor Najma Akhtar on May 26 and launched an online meme competition.
The alleged screenshot, in which Akhtar can be seen offering biryani during a video call, was taken from an online video call conducted on May 26 – a day after Eid.
Although the showcause notice served to the page admin of ‘mehfil_e_jamia’ claims his association with ‘jamiatimes1‘, another Instagram page, the admin denied the same.
“I have no connection with the page named jamitimes1,” the admin of ‘mehfil_e_jamia’ said, on the condition of anonymity. According to him, there was another post shared by ‘jamiatimes1’ with hashtags like #jamiamilliaislamia #eidmubarak #islamophobia #pmo #modi #najmaakhtar #najma #jmi #administration #zoommeeting – as the showcause notice claims.
However, the page admin of ‘jamiatimes1’ has denied posting anything related to the PM or Jamia administration. “Nahi, iss page se PM ke liye koi post nahi kiya gaya (No post related to the PM has been shared by this page),” he said.
The Jamia administration, it seems, got confused between the two pages and issued the notices – even though the post shared by ‘mehfil_e_jamia’ was removed the very same day.
One of the memes, using the VC’s picture, read:
“Student- Mam do something or at least say something about the arrest of jamia Students with false allegations.
Le VC – Hello frands Biryani kha lo”
It criticised Akhtar for her silence over the arrest of a few students for their alleged involvement in the Delhi riots and anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests in February.
Over time, memes have become a medium for many to express their views with wit and humour. The administration, however, doesn’t see it like that.
“Ahmad Azeem, the public relations officer (PRO) called me to remove the post as he found it problematic,” the page admin of ‘mehfil_e_jamia’ said. He added that the PRO told him that all pages associated with or named Jamia are going to be served a notice.
As a consequence, ‘mehfil_e_jamia’ changed its Instagram bio and removed the official status it enjoyed. The admin has denied posting anything related to the prime minister, which was maintained in his official response to the notice as well.
Sadik Khan* (name changed on request), has also been served a notice for commenting on the post, which he calls “baseless”. Khan, an undergraduate student at Jamia, says he has not been using Instagram for the last four months. According to him, there has been some confusion because there are other active users with the same name.
Another student, Rahmat Ali* (name changed on request), calls the showcause notice a clear case of misunderstanding. “If I have commented, then why don’t they send me a screenshot,” Ali said, while denying receiving any screenshots attached to the showcause notice.
Ali says that he does not even know that a page under the name ‘Jamiatimes1’ exists. Talking about ‘mehfil_e_jamia’s’ post, he says he did not comment on any such post. Ali, whose disciplinary record has always been good, is set to draft his reply soon.
The PRO did not respond to calls or messages regarding the whole controversy.
Not the first time
Last year, Priyanka Sharma, a BJP youth activist, was arrested for sharing West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s morphed image. According to Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2019 report titled ‘the crisis of social media’, India secured an overall score of 55/100 and was declared only partly free.
In 2015, Shreya Singhal vs Union of India case, the Supreme Court declared Section 66A of the Information Technology Act as unconstitutional and void. Section 66A had said that a person shall be imprisoned for three years for spreading “any information that is grossly offensive” or “any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience” to anyone.
Last year too, five students were served showcause notices for peacefully protesting against Israeli participation at an international conference, the Global Health Zenith Confluence 2019.
Salman Saleem is a post-graduate student at AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia.