Posts on social media lead to jail for youth in Assam

Guwahati: Barshashri Buragohain (19), a student in Assam, can probably explain better than anyone how a social media post can turn into a nightmare.

Barshashree is pursuing his B.Sc. from Devi Charan Barua Girls College in Jorhat.

Like many other boys and girls of her age, Barshashri was also an ardent fan of Facebook. She loved to post and comment on many things, not knowing that one day a social media post could bring darkness to her life.

May 18 this year was such a dark day for Barshashree.

A few days earlier, she had posted a poem on Facebook in Assamese: “One more step towards the sun of freedom. Once again I will commit treason.

Although the poem written by Barshashree had no direct reference to a terrorist outfit, the FIR against her mentioned that the poem was an implicit endorsement of the banned militant outfit United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I) and pointed to a larger “criminal conspiracy ” and “intention to wage war against the Government of India”.

Buragohain was arrested on May 18 and later sent to prison. A strict procedure under the Act for the Prevention of Unlawful Acts was initiated against the teenager.

After her arrest, people from different parts of Assam expressed their support for the student, demanding her release, while her family claimed that the poem was not provocative at all.

However, the police were not impressed by such accounts.

Special DGP GP Singh defended the arrest and said that when someone publicly professes support for a banned organization and declares an intention to wage war against the Indian state, the police are legally bound to prosecute that person.

But criticism began to pour in on the state government and the police, forcing Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to intervene in Barshashri’s case.

Defending the police action, Surma said at the time, “The girl got protection from destroying her life. One must remember that 42 people were sentenced to death in the ULFA-I camp a few days ago, which the leader of the group, Paresh Barua, may not even know.

Surma added, “The girl was remorseful for her act and her family members have also assured that they will ensure that she does not indulge in such activities in future.”

After the Chief Minister’s intervention, the police did not oppose the bail plea and the 19-year-old was granted bail.

However, it took almost two months and Barshashri had to spend more than 60 days in jail.

After her release from prison, Barshashri said she learned a lot and may not use social media again for the rest of her life.

Interestingly, Barshashri was not the only one who faced difficulties due to social media activities.

A 22-year-old youth from Amguri town in Sivsagar district was also jailed for more than three months for allegedly posting a comment on Facebook in support of ULFA-I.

Bitupan Changmai comments on Barshashree’s poem which sparked the big controversy.

Changmai was arrested from his house on May 19 and produced before the Sivasagar District Court the next day. He was booked under Sections 120B/121/121A of the IPC and the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act was also imposed on him.

He was lodged in Sivsagar District Jail after the Magistrate sent him to custody.

While in prison, Changmai missed some job interviews he had applied for. His family members have been desperately pleading with the state government for his release so that he can lead a normal life.

After more than three months, Changmai was granted bail by a district court in Savasagar.

Maina Chutia, 23, was also arrested for allegedly commenting on a Facebook post written in favor of the ULFA-I.

Maina is a talented young wushu player and boxer from the Moranhat area. Maina, who represented Assam in several tournaments, spent more than a month and a half in jail.

Her Facebook comment came under the scanner of the police cyber cell and a team from the Moranhat police station went to the athlete’s house and arrested her on June 17.

After being released from prison, Maina said, “It was hard to spend so many days in prison, but I learned some good things there.”

Recently, a youth from Silchar was detained by the police for posting emoticons on a Facebook post of a BJP MLA.

The list of such cases in Assam has been growing recently.

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