Having just shaken off a regime that was notoriously intolerant of criticism, citizens of Karnataka might have thought they could breathe – and speak – freely. Not so.
On the same day that Siddaramaiah was taking oath as Chief Minister, one Shantanamurthy MG, a government school teacher in Chitradurga district received a suspension order for allegedly violating the Karnataka Civil Services (Conduct) Rules by his Facebook (FB) post quoting data to criticize the “freebies” announced by the Congress Party during its campaign. A departmental inquiry has also been ordered.
This clampdown on reasoned debate comes close on the heels of the routine intimidation and cases foisted by the earlier BJP government. On March 2, Somashekar Harti, assistant teacher, Government High School at Kuknur taluk in Koppal district was pulled up for sharing a WhatsApp forward about the likelihood of the Congress coming to power. He too was accused of violating the norms under the Karnataka Civil Service Rules.
A 2021 study by Article 14 found that Karnataka ranks first in India by number of people against whom sedition cases have been filed for sharing content or making commentary on social media.
Free Speech Collective will track whether the new government, as part of its poll manifesto of ‘Sarva Janangada Shanthiya Thota’ or ‘Peaceful garden of all communities’ can also ensure free speech and expression, including healthy and reasoned criticism of the government itself.