Sofia Showdown With Soundararajan: The Activist Side Of Sofia Comes To The Fore

by M R Subramani - Sep 5, 2018 04:38 PM +05:30 IST
Sofia Showdown With Soundararajan: The Activist Side Of Sofia Comes To The ForeLois Sofia is a 28-year-old student pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy degree at the University of Montreal, Canada.
  • As the controversy over anti-BJP sloganeering by a student on an airline thickens, new details emerge about the sloganeer, Lois Sofia.

For a while, Tamil Nadu media, which is overtly anti-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had been short of issues against the ruling party at the centre. The situation was especially true after the death of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) patriarch and five-time state chief minister M Karunanidhi. But like getting flattened rice (poha) for a mouth that is chewing nothing, the media got something to beat the BJP with on 3 September.

On a flight to Thoothukudi from Chennai, 28-year-old Lois Sofia, pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy degree at the University of Montreal, Canada, decided to raise slogans against the BJP on board. Remember, she was on board a flight. Sofia had a rush of adrenalin on sighting BJP Tamil Nadu unit chief Tamilisai Soundararajan as her co-passenger, and she made her intentions clear here:

As Soundararajan was fetching her handbag from the luggage compartment over her head, Sofia indulged in sloganeering, calling the BJP a fascist party. To the BJP leader’s credit, she kept quiet on board instead of making a scene. Raising slogans or even shouting on board an airline is not allowed as it is perceived to be a security risk. Soundararajan herself can be seen on the video telling police that she chose to keep quiet since she didn’t want to create an ugly scene on board.

Sofia was offered a chance to apologise, but since she was adamant that she would not, she was arrested and produced before a magistrate. The judge remanded her to judicial custody, but she was let out on conditional bail on 4 September with the court asking the student to surrender her passport.

The issue continues to draw limelight even two days after the incident, but the fact is that the media has chosen to back Sofia without even giving a thought to the danger she exposed the passengers on board to.

Besides, opposition parties like the DMK, the Congress, and others joined the media chorus condemning the arrest and saying the centre was suppressing the freedom of expression and fundamental rights. DMK president M K Stalin said he would repeat Sofia’s statement against the BJP, not giving thought to the reality of how passengers should behave on board.

The Congress called this “undeclared emergency”, perhaps forgetting an incident in which a police treated a woman who tried to shout slogans against Sonia Gandhi roughly. And no one can forget how Karthi Chidambaram, son of former Union minister P Chidambaram, got a person arrested from Puducherry for tweeting about his wealth. It is understandable that the media, particularly in Tamil Nadu, cannot be expected to take an unbiased view of any event involving the BJP, but the media and opposition leaders are ignoring certain ground realities.

Had Sofia behaved in a similar manner in Canada, where she is studying, or any other country, she would have been cooling her heels behind bars now. The Director General of Civil Aviation’s rules on unruly passengers is clear, and the media and opposition leaders should read that. One of them can also show the rule book to Sofia. Her father, A A Sami, a retired government servant, has said his daughter was unaware of aviation rules! Tamil Nadu Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar has responded well to these statements saying that freedom of expression doesn’t mean she can indulge in sloganeering in an aircraft.

That said, Sofia isn’t just an innocent student. Her social media activities have thrown up how she was active during the protests in Thoothukudi, demanding the closure of Sterlite copper plant. One of her uncles, an advocate, was active in the protests. The student was also active in opposing the eight-lane Salem-Chennai green expressway corridor. She is also a supporter of at least two organisations, one of which was seen as the primary culprit behind the Thoothukudi violence. The other organisation she supports is May 17, headed by Thirumurugan Gandhi, that actively supports a separate Tamil nation in the garb of supporting Sri Lankan Tamils.

More importantly, she is studying in Canada, a country where sympathisers of the outlawed Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are still active. Sri Lankan Tamil immigrants in Canada are funding the pro-Lankan Tamil organisations, including May 17, in India and, needless to say, most of them are influenced by the church. The suspicion is that Sofia is probably under the influence of Lankan Tamils, trying to set up a separate Tamil nation.

While publishing reports on Sofia being extended bail, the media, wilfully or otherwise, didn’t point out something important. One, the bail is conditional and she has been asked to surrender her passport. Second, 15-16 advocates appeared for her in the court, making the magistrate wonder why there was so much fanfare for the case. Third, the magistrate told Sofia she had to be aware of her surroundings before speaking or shouting anything.

There are two more things that are troubling in this episode. One, the complaint that Sofia’s father filed with the Pudukottai police. Why is he invoking his caste name while filing a complaint? Why has he struck off the word in which he claims to hail from a Scheduled Caste? Second is the statement of Sami justifying the reason for including his caste name. He told in a television interview that Soundararajan was headed to Tenkasi to enrol people belonging to his caste in the BJP and he wanted the caste people to know that the party ruling at the centre was against the downtrodden caste! That makes one smell something fishy! It even makes one question the whole episode of raising slogans in an aircraft. Was Soundararajan provoked into acting so that people of Sofia’s caste won’t join the BJP?

This apart, what has to be borne in mind is that Soundararajan is being abused with unprintable words by trolls on social media. She has acknowledged this aspect, but has chosen to take it in her stride. Otherwise, how could people keep quiet of someone even asking her if she is a man?

She is not even allowed to wish people on Teachers’ Day like this troll below. These are just samples of some printable ones. Why is that no one among the opposition leaders called for action against these trolls? Freedom of expression doesn’t mean abusing others, especially women. Their silence only means that they are complicit in the attack on Soundararajan.

Ironically, for someone who talks about the freedom of expression and those who support her, Sofia’s tweets are not accessible to everyone. Can her supporters clear the air on this?


Update: It also emerges now that Sofia surrendered an expired passport. Pudukottai police have asked her to appear before them with the new passport on 8 September.

Also Read:

Left-Liberal Outrage Bogus: Why Soundararajan Was Right To Take Unruly Sophia To Court

M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

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