SC Orders Release of Manipuri Activist Arrested for Saying Cow Dung Doesn’t Cure Covid19
The Supreme Court on Monday ordered the release of Manipur-based political activist Erendro Leichombam who was arrested for a Facebook post on cow science. The court noted his detention under the stringent National Security Act violates Article 21 that promises people the right to life and liberty.
Erendro was arrested on May 13th over a post (related to the death of a Bharatiya Janata Party leader) that criticized leaders for linking cow dung or cow urine as a treatment to Covid19. This is what Erendro commented: “The cure for Corona is not cow dung and cow urine. The cure is science and common sense. Professor ji RIP,” he said. The state police accused him, and Imphal-based journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem, of causing “social unrest.”
The bench, comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah, was responding to a petition by Erendro’s father L. Raghumani Singh. The petitioner argued that the NSA in Erendro’s case suffers from “malice in law.” Notably, the NSA allows “preventative detentions,” enabling state authorities to detain the accused without a formal trial.
“Erendro, a Manipuri political activist, has been preventively detained solely to punish him for his criticism of Bhartiya Janta Party (‘BJP’) leaders for advocating cow-dung and cow-urine as cures for Covid,” the petition said.
“Can’t allow detention of this person even for a day,” the bench noted while directing the authorities to release him by 5 PM today. “He cannot be overnight in jail for this,” according to Bar and Bench.
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Both Erendro and Wangkhem have been critical of the BJP government in the state and have spoken against militarization and state repression. Notably, the government has previously filed FIRs and cases of sedition against both. Kishorechandra too has been arrested multiple times by the BJP government and charged not only with NSA but also sedition for criticizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and, the BJP’s ideological fount, the RSS.
In the current case, the police noted in its complaint: “Your very statement brings or attempts to bring hatred or contempt, or incites or attempts to incite disaffection towards the government established law in India, recites or utters obscene words in social media platform, thereby willfully insulted and outraged the religious feeling and sentiments of the BJP workers and family member.”
Both Erendro and Wangkhem criticized BJP leaders for advocating cow urine and cow dung as cures for the virus — clarifying it is counterintuitive to science and common sense and does not save people’s lives during the pandemic. The myth of cow dung/urine’s utility has been propagated by several members of the BJP. In May, a leader said he mixed “hawan” material with cow dung cakes and ghee of a desi cow to stop Covid19 spread.
Notably, the objection to any such claims remains at the locus of responsible public health messaging. “There has been an acceleration in pseudoscience in recent times. … For science to thrive, people have to not believe things that they are told without evidence. A society must always question. If that doesn’t happen, it is extremely worrisome,” Soumitro Banerjee, a professor from Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER), told Quartz in February.