Chennai: A young research scholar, who was on Monday arrested for allegedly raising slogans and dubbing the BJP Government “fascist” on board an aircraft in which BJP state president Tamilisai Soundararajan was travelling, was released on bail on Tuesday by a court in Thoothukudi in southern Tamil Nadu. Tamilisai alleged that co-passenger Lois Sofia, who is pursuing doctoral studies in Mathematics at the University of Montreal in Canada, had, while de-boarding from the Chennai-Thoothukudi Indigo flight, shouted with her fists up, “Down with the fascist BJP Government.”
Sofia, a native of Thoothukudi, had before the flight took off, tweeted saying she was on board a flight in which Tamilisai was travelling and felt like calling the BJP-RSS government fascist and asked if she would be kicked off the flight. “I did not counter her on the flight but at the arrival lounge, I asked her if it was proper to raise such slogans to which Sofia said it was her right to speech and expression. She used certain words, which made me suspect that some (outlawed / extremist) organisation could be behind her and hence I lodged a complaint,” Tamilisai said.
The BJP leader defended her decision to press the complaint despite a Sub Inspector and some co-passengers urging her to take a lenient view of the incident. Sofia was booked for intent to cause fear or alarm, public nuisance and behaving in a manner likely to disturb public peace. The Magistrate granted Sofia bail on Tuesday and set her free, advising her parents to ensure that she did not get involved in such incidents.
Her father Samy however expressed apprehension that her studies abroad could be disrupted as the police had asked for her passport copy. “We don’t have any political affiliation as claimed by Tamilisai,” he said. Samy had filed a complaint alleging that the BJP cadres abused his daughter and issued death threats besides taking her photos. However, the police were yet to register a case.
The incident drew strong political reactions with opposition party leaders accusing the BJP of being intolerant and blowing up the issue instead of allowing dissent in a democracy. However, the state government defended Sofia’s arrest. Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar contended that if such incidents were allowed to happen, then politicians won’t be able to travel freely on flights.
Actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan also came to Sofia’s defence and questioned the basis of the charges levelled against her. Batting for free speech, Haasan in a tweet, said that if politicians can roam around freely, despite sloganeering and being critical of each other in public places, then so can the common people. ‘‘If Sofia is a criminal, then politicians are criminals, too. Why aren’t they arrested? Having said that, I realise that I, too, am a politician when I say this,” said Haasan.