Controversial Bengali vlogger Roddur Roy was for making “derogatory” remarks about West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, a Lok Sabha MP and all-India general secretary of the Trinamool Congress.
The state’s largest human rights defence organisation, the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights, called it a “political arrest” and demanded his release.
Roy, who has 3.28 lakh subscribers on YouTube and 4.91 lakh followers on Facebook, is known for his live sessions on both platforms, during which he delivers expletive-laden commentary, usually on social issues. He combines this with a peculiar accent, gestures, singing out of tune and playing instruments off-key, and rolling or smoking joints – a combination that some dismiss as “utter rubbish” and “lunacy” or a form of satire.
As a result, his arrest this week has resulted in two forms of criticism.
The first calls his arrest a violation of his freedom of speech and expression.
The second questions why he wasn’t arrested before – such as when he with expletives, or abused other politicians like Modi (he apparently said “fuck you, Modi” in 2020). Why arrest him, some social media users asked, only when his target was the Bengal chief minister?
The Tagore incident, for instance, led to a furore.
It was 2019 and Roy sang a version of Tagore’s iconic love song, Sedin Dujone Dulechhilu Boney. Except he changed the tune and inserted curse words, and it then went viral. The controversy, however, took place only in March 2020, when a group of students, both men and women, at Kolkata’s Rabindra Bharati University sang Roy’s song on campus during Basanta Utsav, a celebration of Tagore.
The campus itself is located at Tagore’s ancestral home, Jorasanko Thakurbari, a citadel of the 19th century Bengal renaissance. While performing, the phrase “bNara chand uthechhilo gogone” – where Roy adds the word “dick” before Tagore’s original “when the moon shone” – was written on the backs of four female students.
Perhaps nothing could have offended the Bengali bhadralok more. Some teachers with the police. The incident triggered shock and outrage in the Bengali media and on social media. Most media outlets profiled Roddur Roy – offering details that had been sketchy until that point – informing the public his real name is Anirban Roy and he’s from Ramnagar town in East Midnapore district, where he graduated from a local college in the early 1990s before working in IT in Noida for a few years.
Anirban might be his name, but it’s Roddur Roy whom people talk about. As Roy told Bengali daily Aajkal, this is a character he plays, that of “an utmost confused and frustrated person”.
Digging at Didi
But the recent turn of events began with Roy’s Facebook lives on and .
He had been talking about the death of singer KK on May 31 after a college performance in Kolkata, which had triggered debate in the state – it was widely alleged that the auditorium in which KK performed had been to three times its capacity, and the singer felt unwell after the unbearable heat.
The state government’s critics targeted the state administration and the leaders of the college’s TMC student wing for mismanagement.
A new dimension was added to the controversy when it was revealed that shortly before KK’s death, Bengali singer Rupankar Bagchi had held a Facebook live where he allegedly belittled the singer and criticised the hype in Kolkata over a Bollywood performer. Bagchi later .
During his Facebook live episodes, Roy said the controversy and politicisation of an unfortunate death reflected “societal sickness” at many levels and criticised Bagchi for his “narrowmindedness”. He hit out at the TMC government for mismanagement, singling out several ministers and party leaders, and then mocked Mamata Banerjee for her governance and her alleged theatrics during administrative review meetings, which are broadcast live on Facebook.
Roy also brought up how the Paschim Banga Bangla Academy, chaired by education minister Bratya Basu, had Banerjee a literary award last month for her “relentless literary pursuits”. The first recipient of an award instituted only this year, Banerjee received it for her poetry collection, titled Kobita Bitan.
Roy mocked Banerjee’s poetry in monologues peppered with the Hindi and Bengali words for “bitch” and “c***”. He also referred to her as “amader bokac*udi”, which loosely translates to “dumbfucker”.
On June 3, two complaints were lodged against Roy with the Kolkata police. The first was filed by TMC spokesperson Riju Dutta, the other by TMC Rajya Sabha MP Shantanu Sen.
It is in connection with Sen’s complaint that the police framed the case. Roy was arrested from Goa, where he’s lived for the past year, on June 7 and brought to Kolkata the following evening. He was produced before a city court on Thursday afternoon and remanded to six days in police custody.
Police records do not specify whether Roy was booked for his comments on June 2 or 3. Dutta’s complaint included the URL of the June 3 video, Sen’s did not include specific video details. Curiously, the police records refer to him as “Anirban Dey”.
“It’s obscene, vulgar, distasteful and harmful for society,” Dutta told Newslaundry. “I congratulate the Kolkata police for such prompt action in arresting him and hope this will set an example preventing others from using such abusive language on a woman in the future.”
The other controversy surrounding Roy’s arrest is that the police have charged him under 12 different sections of the Indian Penal Code, including “provoking riot” and “promoting racial/religious enmity”.
Police records show the case against Roy was initially under IPC sections 120b (party to criminal conspiracy), 153 (provocation with intent to riot), 417 (cheating), 501 (printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory), 504 (intentional insult to provoke breach of peace), 505 (public mischief) and 509 (insult modesty of a woman).
On June 6, a day before the arrest, the police applied before a magistrate’s court to add section 153a (promoting enmity) and sections 465, 467, 468 and 489 of the IPC – all of which are related to forgery.
The June 6 application said, “...the accused person entered into a criminal conspiracy and in furtherance to that prepared an audio visual clippings using filthy words in Bengali and English against Honourable Chief minister of West Bengal and others members of cabinet with provocation to break law and order in West Bengal as well as to promote hatred among different groups.”
The application said that, during the course of their investigation, the police found that the broadcast of such content on YouTube may “promote enmity between different groups on the ground of religion, race, language etc”. Moreover, it said Roy had “forged the electronics data for the purpose of cheating and used the same as genuine”.
For many observers, the charge of “provocation to break law and order” – section 504 – sounds ridiculous, almost like a subject of Roy’s own commentary. In his videos, Roy has often expressed his frustration at the constant political unrest in the state, especially endless incidents of political violence between the TMC and BJP. He’s also been a critic of violence in general.
“A section of people do have reservations against his way of expression while we also have a past legacy of artists’ experiments with expletives as a form of language and expression,” said Ranjit Sur, general secretary of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights. “There is no doubt that his reference to the chief minister on some occasions is unacceptable to be used on any woman. For that, he should be publicly criticised and condemned. Policing is no way to deal with such issues.”
Sur also criticised Roy being charged under sections like incitement to riot or promoting enmity. In his videos, Roy has often used “filthy” language to lambast politicians and parties for creating divides on religious, ethnic or political grounds.
“If we do not protest this, it will set a precedent of silencing critics with penal provisions involving provocation to riot and promotion of racial enmity, which are absolutely false charges,” Sur said. “It will set a bad precedent for state authoritarianism.”
Filmmaker Q, who is also from West Bengal but has lived in Goa for several years now, described Roy as a “lampoon artist” and condemned his arrest.
“The arrest is all the more unfortunate considering that we in Bengal have the example of Gopal Bhand. Jesters like him used to be appointed by kings to be in courts and present complicated matters in the language of the streets,” Q told Newslaundry. “But today, unfortunately, they get arrested.”
Roy himself did not sound too troubled during his on the morning of June 7, hours before being arrested.
Rolling a joint, he said, “Two years ago, I got an indirect case. My videos were edited and circulated...But this time, it’s not an indirect case...Yes, Didi, I am telling you because you are very much involved in this, I have researched. I can’t sleep at night these days. I spend whole nights thinking of the mysteries of earning cases and end up screaming ‘Didi, Didi!’ People think what kind of a pervert I am, screaming ‘Didi, Didi’ in the dead of night...”
He then lit the joint and mocked Banerjee’s published poetry, in his usual fashion.
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