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FIR filed against Babu Gogineni for ‘hurting religious sentiments’

Times of India  June 27, 2018 reported:  Acting on the order passed by the 25th Metropolitan Magistrate Court at Kukatpally, Hyderabad, the Madhapur Police Station registered an FIR against human rights activist Babu Gogineni for ‘hurting religious sentiments’  of the people. The court issued the order after taking cognisance of a private complaint filed by city-based K.Veera Narayana Chowdary that accuses Gogineni of hurting religious sentiments and promoting enmity among different groups on the grounds of religion. The petitioner also claimed that Babu had disagreed with capital punishment for 26/11 accused Ajmal Kasab. A contestant on the TV reality show Bigg Boss 2 in Telugu, Babu is presently living in the Bigg Boss house.

The case was registered under Sections 121 (Waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the Government of India), 124a (Sedition), 153a (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion), 153b (Imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration), 292 (Obscenity), 293 (Sale, etc, of obscene objects to young person), 295-A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 406 (Criminal breach of trust), 420 (Cheating), 504 (Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace) and 505 (Statements conducing public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Babu was also booked under sections of the UIDAI Act for allegedly collecting and storing Aadhar details. When quizzed about the allegations pertaining to the UIDAI Act, Veera claimed that Babu Gogineni had collected Aadhar details of people who participated in an earlier event in Visakhapatnam and charged money from those who wanted to attend the event. The organisers of the event later  clarified that Babu was in no way involved in the planning of the event in general.

“There is an event organisation team which conducts the event where Babu was a guest. We never collected personal details of any person attending the event, until one day Babu received death threats online. The team then came to a collective conclusion to make ID proof mandatory, as rationalists are under threat in this country,” Viswanadh, who was part of the team, explained. Viswanadh mentioned that Aadhar details were not compulsory. Driving license and other government IDs were also submitted as many opposed Aadhar card in the group, which were also accepted, he stated.

Veera Narayana, who heads an IT firm which is based in India and the US, says Gogineni has falsely proclaimed himself as a humanist and is causing religious disharmony among people. “While the Constitution allows you the freedom of speech, there is also a clause which states that your speech should not hurt the sentiments of mass believers. Through his speeches, Babu Gogineni has not only hurt religious sentiments, he has caused a ruckus among people from different religions,” he says. In the complaint, Narayana also accused Gogineni of propagating 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed’s view that India is responsible for using “water terrorism” against Pakistan. “He is also causing harm to national integration. On his social media page, Gogineni endorsed views of 26/11 terror attacks mastermind and global terrorist Hafiz Saeed that India has used “water terrorism” against Pakistan. Babu  has also stated that Saudi Arabia is a terrorist nation, which goes against the stand of the Indian government,” Narayana contends.

Officers at the Madhapur Police Station confirmed that an FIR has been lodged against Babu Gogineni under sections 121, 124a, 153a, 153b, 292, 293, 295-A, 406, 420, 504, 505 of the Indian Penal Code. “It was a court referred case and after preliminary investigations, an FIR has been registered against Babu Gogineni on sections 295, 153, 292,” said Yadaiah Goud, investigating officer at the Madhapur Police Station. The sections under Indian Penal Code pertain injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class, promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and obscene representation respectively. “The accused is in Big Boss house now, so we are conducting investigations on whether there has been any abuse on social media,” adds Yadaiah Goud. It is learnt that  the PS declined to register a case, but Veera found a willing judge to file the FIR.

Madhapur SHO R Kalinga Rao said, “We registered a case as it was a court order. The due process is that we usually ask for evidence from the petitioner and then get a legal opinion, before taking a statement from the accused.” The police officer also said that the petitioner was yet to submit his evidence to them. “Even if Babu is in the Bigg Boss house, the law of the land stands. There will be no exception. We will get more clarity in a week once the petitioner submits his evidence,” the police officer said.

Ramesh from the Jana Vignana Vedika )  (JVV- People’s Science Forum) in a press meet on 29 June Friday said :  “There is a larger issue at play. Looking at incidents from the murders of MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh, the message is clear that there is an organisational effort to discredit rationalists and their allies. The investigators also said that the same group was responsible for both these attacks.” Jana Vignana Vedika is an organisation based in the Telugu states of Telangana and Andhra that supports rational  and scientific thinking.  (see photo of press meet below).

“ As rationalists, we are against harmful practices in every religion,” Ramesh said. “While it is true that we do target superstition in the Hindu religion along with other psuedo-sciences like astrology, we must note that India is largely populated by Hindus. So it is only obvious that these issues will be highlighted more. However, they appear to be sending a message that questioning their faith is an attack on religion,” he added.  JVV  described the case of treason registered by the Madhapur police against prominent rationalist Babu Gogineni as an attempt to silence his voice and to hold out threats to him.  While condemning the police action, the Vedika leaders contended that the charges under the State Act levelled against Gogineni would not stand.

The Vedika leaders, including a Retired Judge of High Court,  submitted a written representation to Cyberabad Commissioner PC Sajjanar on June 28 Thursday demanded a comprehensive inquiry into the ‘motivated’ complaint and take action against the complainant. They urged the CP to stop the inquiry proceedings as Gogineni figures in TV reality show Big Boss.

Babu was also the host of ‘The Big Question with Babu Gogineni’, a popular weekly TV show in Telangana and Andhra. “Around three years ago, there were talks to do a show on the line of Carl Sagan’s ‘Cosmos’, but I felt that we could do a more detailed job. I discussed the idea with the Managing Director of 10TV, and he agreed to give me a primetime slot, even if no one would watch it,” Babu had  narrated.

“The show dealt with civilisation, science and ideas as they developed through history, and topped the list of TRP ratings for three weeks in a row. Even if it wasn’t on top, it was still one of the most watched programs. We proved several critics wrong,” he had  added.

Dr.M.Bapuji,  Senior  Scientist ( ex- CSIR ) , based in Bengaluru,   also condemned it . It is an  attempt to frame up rationalists in false cases, he  said :  even though the case may not ultimately stand , meanwhile the persons involved are harassed, which itself is a punishment. Their time, money and  energy are heavily taxed by  such false cases involving draconian sections like sedition.  This has been a method practiced increasingly by the ruling establishment , found across the country,  aided by some in the lower judiciary. Ways and means should be found to counter this trend, he said.

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This case is an onslaught  on a prominent and active fighter and leader  in the field, with an intention to scare and silence such people,  as can be seen  from the following  profile of Babu Gogineni.

Born in 1968, Rajaji Ramanadha Babu Gogineni started off his career as a teacher. He moved to the United Kingdom in 1997, where he was associated with the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), following which he returned to Hyderabad and has been donning the role of a science populariser, on the lines of Carl Sagan.

“I was born in Hyderabad and had a fairly decent humanist upbringing, with the ability to think for myself,” he narrates. Babu also quips about how his father, who was a farmer, would sit down and read his son political arguments made by the likes of MN Roy, Minoo Masani and go all the way to Socrates and Buddha. At the age of 17, Babu became the youngest certified French language teacher in India, after a diploma course with the Alliance Française. He later graduated from Nizam College in Microbiology, Botany and Chemistry. By this time, Babu had also picked up a little bit of German, and began reviewing French and German films for a newspaper.

Gogineni has been active in the rationalist and Humanist movement from a young age. He served as Joint secretary of Indian Radical Humanist Association, Bombay, between 1988-1996; Vice-President of the Indian Rationalist Association, Hyderabad between 1993-1996; Secretary General of Rationalist Association India, Hyderabad between 1995-1996, and was part of South Asian Humanist Network, Bombay between 1995-1996.  In 1997, Babu Gogineni (photo below) was appointed Executive Director of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). He was associated with IHEU till 2015.  In time, Babu also managed to get consultative status for the IHEU at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), UNICEF and UNESCO.

He conceptualized and founded the IHEU Centre for Bioethics at the UN in New York.  He also helped organize IHEU’s Congresses in Mumbai (1999), Amsterdam (2002) and Paris (2005), and its first GA in Africa (2004).

Babu was also actively involved in campaigns for the protection of Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, and bringing Pakistani freethinker Younus Shaikh to safety in Europe. Taslima’s story is better documented, and Babu had helped raise funds to support her and make sure that she was safe. Later, Taslima became a representative of the IHEU at UNESCO in Paris. Dr Younus Shaikh on the other hand, was charged with ‘blasphemy’ in 2000, by authorities in Pakistan.”The campaign for Dr Shaikh involved  street demonstrations and lobbying behind the scenes, with governments and ambassadors,” Babu  said.

Shaikh was finally acquitted in 2003, following which he escaped to Europe. Following all this, Babu returned to India, but continued his role at the IHEU until 2015. Babu also set up the Humanist Centre for Bioethics at the UN in New York before he moved back to India.

Babu  also talks about how untouchability as a concept was present in Bangladesh, Nepal, Yemen, Korea, Japan, Nigeria, and even Sweden, France and Spain until the 1700s, and was not unique to India.

“Only in India did it get associated to caste. Great intellectuals like Dr Ambedkar have pointed this out already,” says Babu, who also organized two World Conferences on Untouchability, in London and in Kathmandu.

It was also in India that Babu came across Sambhavi, who was projected and hailed as a child goddess, and a friend of the Dalai Lama in an earlier incarnation. “An infant had been handed over to the Dalai Lama, because he saw something ‘divine’ in the child. This had to be fought, but it was not going to be easy, as my adversary had a Noble Peace Prize in his pocket,” says Babu.

“There were threats and accusations for exposing the Lama for the little leader of a small sect of Buddhism that he is. He had been preparing a child to be his successor, but I demanded to know why the child was in a temple, when she should be in school. They pushed the child around like a circus animal,” he adds. Following this, Babu moved the Andhra Pradesh State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) , which ruled that the 8-year-old child’s Right to Education was violated, and ordered that the child must go to school.

“In India, what do you do when government sponsored departments in institutes spread pseudo-science and myths?” Babu asks. “Religion in India is an untaxed, unmonitored business venture, and a big disaster and an emergency. An enlightenment needs to be brought in,” he rues. Babu has done his part, inviting astrologers on live debates in Telugu channels, to predict election results accurately for a reward of Rs 1 crore. Several astrologers took up the challenge in 2009, and 2014, only to fail miserably on live Television. Babu is also a regular myth-buster on Telugu TV channels, and participates in debates, that debunk astrology and other pseudo-sciences.

As far as the future is concerned, Babu is focused on building the South Asian Humanist Association that he founded. “I’m keen on promoting a scientific culture, which is why I’m also working with Science for Society. I’m also working to set up a Virtual University for Humanism and also a media channel.” he says. Obviously reactionaries  decided to  create hurdles in such efforts and this is a trial case.

(MK Adithya is a media person who occasionally contributed to countercurrents.org)

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