Creating a nuisance aboard an airplane isn’t dissent, it’s a crime

A woman named Lois Sofia was arrested and remanded in 15 days judicial custody for raising anti-BJP slogans while travelling on a flight from Chennai to Tuticorin, in which Tamil Nadu BJP president Tamilisai Soundararajan was also travelling. According to reports, the BJP leader then had an argument with the woman after landing at the airport, after which lodged a complaint against the woman with Airports Authority of India and Indigo airlines, the operator of the concerned flight.

The incident happened on the 3rd of September 2018. After obtaining a legal opinion, the Tuticorin police registered charges against Sofia under IPC sections 505 (statements conducing to public mischief), 290 (public nuisance) and Section 75 of the Tamil Nadu City Police Act. In the evening, she was produced before a judicial magistrate who sent her for judicial custody of 15 days. A local court granted her bail on September 4th.

After these developments, the media immediately ran with the story and the incident went viral, as a perfect example of how ‘fascist’ BJP govt can’t tolerate dissent and will send anyone to jail who raises a voice against it.

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The usual suspects, opposition parties, left-liberals etc started blaming the Modi government for the arrest of a student for exercising her right to speech.

Congress leader Manish Tewari tweeted, ‘Lois Sofia hit a very raw nerve when she called a spade a spade. The TN BJP President reacted to dissent just as Fascists do by imprisoning those who oppose them….’

DMK chief Stalin accused that Tamil Nadu govt is stifling the right to free speech.

She immediately became a hero of free speech against BJP govt.

Social media got flooded with such accusations. However, everyone who was supporting the lady raising ‘her voice of dissent’ missed a key point. They forget to mention that she raised the slogans inside an aircraft. That adds a totally different dimension to the case, it does not remain a case of dissent or free speech only. Unruly behaviour inside a flying aircraft is an offence as per DGCA rules.

Section 1.1 of DGCA circular on handling unruly passengers says ‘Unlawful/disruptive behaviour on board the aircraft may interfere with the performance of duties of the crew members or hamper the ability of the crew members to perform those duties or jeopardize the safety of the aircraft /persons/ property on board/good order & discipline on board, cause discomfort to other passengers & crew members and may invite penal action in accordance with applicable regulations.’

Section 1.3 says Unruly behaviour on-board aircraft has been declared as an offence and is a punishable act.

Moreover, section 23 of Aircraft Rules 1937 says that assault, intimidate or threaten, whether physically or verbally, any person, is an offence under the rule, which is punishable under the provision of Rule 161.

After the 9/11 attack on Twin Towers in New York, the air travel in the world has undergone a drastic change. The safety measures have become much tougher, the governments, security agencies and airlines have become much more sensitive to air travel safety.

Any kind of suspicious, unnatural, or unruly behaviour is not taken lightly by airlines and regulators. Such behaviour is punishable offences under guidelines of various regulators across the world including FAA. Hence, though the right to dissent and freedom of speech are sacrosanct and it must be protected, one must be objective about particular incidents. One has to respect legal and regulatory norms regarding time, place & occasion while conducting any kind of protest.

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