Skip to main content

Indian laws "criminalize" difference of opinion, should be in line with UN framework: PEN International

Counterview Desk
A top world organization advocating free speech, PEN International, in a comprehensive study of Indian laws has said that the legal system of the country makes it “surprisingly easy” to silence those who disagree. Insisting that several laws either require to be repealed or urgently reformed, it says, in India, “if you disagree with something that can be said to promote ‘enmity’, jeopardise ‘national integration’, ‘maliciously’ insult religion, or foster “enmity between groups’, it is not difficult to invoke censorship.”
Insisting that Indian laws are not in consonance with UN covenants on freedom of expression, the report says, those who have sought to be silenced by using them range from top painter MF Husain, who was forced into a self-exile, cultural historian Wendy Doniger, who authored “The Hindus: An Alternative History”, Tamil novelist Perumal Murugan, who wrote “Madhorubagan” (One Part Woman), to journalists, social activists, and well-known NGOs like Greenpeace India.
MF Husain
Born in 1921, PEN – which originally stood for Poets, Essayists and Novelists, and later broadened to Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, Novelists – regrets that sections of Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP) are riddled with “vague and overbroad phrases” which can be used to “restrict freedom of expression, not only by governments, but by almost anyone who wishes to silence another.” PEN recently established its wing in Delhi and Mumbai.
PEN cites Section 95 of the CCP, which it says empowers state governments to seize and prohibit publications that “appear’ to violate” IPC. Then, Section 124A of the IPC which “criminalises sedition” – used by the British to silence Mahatma Gandhi – is still alive. It was recently used to “justify the harassment of several thousand protesters at a nuclear site, a situation that prompted a formal inquiry from three UN Special Rapporteurs”.
Wendy Doniger
Holding special consultative status at the UN and associate status at UNESCO, PEN’s report on India, “Imposing Silence”, released this week, says that there are sections which “criminalise defamation”, in order to “secure a conviction without proof that actual harm has occurred. Thus, only the intent or knowledge that harm would likely result is sufficient” to proceed against someone.
“Predictably, this provision has been used to silence political speech. In May 2014, the IPC’s public mischief provisions (Section 505) were used to arrest a Bangalore student who sent an allegedly offensive WhatsApp message about Prime Minister Narendra Modi”, it recalls.
Ashis Nandy
Coming to laws which it says should be repeal, PEN cites how Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 (FCRA) is currently being used to “lodge complaints against small NGOs who do not toe the party line.” It adds, this act was again used in April 2015, when the Ministry of Home Affairs suspended Greenpeace India’s registration, observing its activities “adversely affecting the national interest”.
In what may lead to eyebrows being raised by Dalit activists, PEN takes exception to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which bans expression that “intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate” a member of a scheduled caste or tribe.
Perumal Murugan
“Notably, the provisions apply to expression that does not necessarily rise to the level of inciting hatred, but simply requires the intention to humiliate”, PEN says, giving the example of how noted sociologist Ashish Nandy was sought to be intimated in 2013 for his speech at a Jaipur literary festival, where he said “most of the people getting caught in corruption charges belong to marginalized sections.”
The report objects to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), which has been used to prosecute a woman found with ‘Maoist leaflets”, even though, in a separate case, the High Court of Bombay held that the possession of propaganda from a banned organisation was not sufficient proof of membership. Local human rights groups report that the Act has been used with ‘fabricated evidence and false charges’ to detain and silence peaceful activists.”

Comments

TRENDING

IMA vs Ramdev: Why what's good or bad for goose should be good or bad for gander

By Dr Amitav Banerjee, MD* Baba Ramdev and his associate Balkrishna faced the wrath of the Supreme Court for their propaganda about their Ayurvedic products and belittling mainstream medicine. Baba Ramdev had to apologize in court. His apology was not accepted and he may face the contempt of court with harsher punishment. The Supreme Court acted on a public interest litigation (PIL) moved by the Indian Medical Association (IMA).

Women innovators on simple, revolutionary alternate solutions for water problems

By Proshakha Maitra, Mansee Bal Bhargava* The detrimental effects of uncontrolled population rise and accelerated change in the global climate have posed tremendous pressure on the water and sanitation. This calls all stakeholders, from both developed and developing nations, to improve their resilience and to instigate sustainability. It is more crucial than ever to optimise the use of the resources we have on hand since the world population is projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050.

Magnetic, stunning, Protima Bedi 'exposed' malice of sexual repression in society

By Harsh Thakor*  Protima Bedi was born to a baniya businessman and a Bengali mother as Protima Gupta in Delhi in 1949. Her father was a small-time trader, who was thrown out of his family for marrying a dark Bengali women. The theme of her early life was to rebel against traditional bondage. It was extraordinary how Protima underwent a metamorphosis from a conventional convent-educated girl into a freak. On October 12th was her 75th birthday; earlier this year, on August 18th it was her 25th death anniversary.

Alleged killing of another Bangladesh youth inside Indian territory: NHRC inquiry sought

By Kirity Roy* There was yet another incident of the killing of a Bangladeshi youth by the Border Security Force personnel attached with ‘Barthar’ BOP of ‘G’ Company of 75 BSF Battalion. In last five years several incidents of killings happened under this police station’s jurisdiction and the cases will get the award as “Not Guilty” as usual.

Modi model, Hindutva icon 'justified' alliance with Muslim League before Independence

By Shamsul Islam*  Our PM describes himself as ‘Hindu’ nationalist and member of RSS. He proudly shares the fact that he was groomed to be a political leader by one of the two fathers of the Hindutva politics, MS Golwalkar (the other being VD Savarkar) and given the task of establishing Hindutva polity in India after eradicating secularism.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Crusader for people’s causes, this Hollywood actor entered 'unexplored zones' in US

By Harsh Thakor*  Marlon Brando on April 3rd completes his birth centenary. He perished in 2004, on July 1, aged 80 years. Arguably in Hollywood Brando penetrated sensitivity and versatility at an unparalleled scale and discovered new horizons or explored path breaking zones in acting.

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Insider plot to kill Deendayal Upadhyay? What RSS pracharak Balraj Madhok said

By Shamsul Islam*  Balraj Madhok's died on May 2, 2016 ending an era of old guards of Hindutva politics. A senior RSS pracharak till his death was paid handsome tributes by the RSS leaders including PM Modi, himself a senior pracharak, for being a "stalwart leader of Jan Sangh. Balraj Madhok ji's ideological commitment was strong and clarity of thought immense. He was selflessly devoted to the nation and society. I had the good fortune of interacting with Balraj Madhok ji on many occasions". The RSS also issued a formal condolence message signed by the Supremo Mohan Bhagwat on behalf of all swayamsevaks, referring to his contribution of commitment to nation and society. He was a leading RSS pracharak on whom his organization relied for initiating prominent Hindutva projects. But today nobody in the RSS-BJP top hierarchy remembers/talks about Madhok as he was an insider chronicler of the immense degeneration which was spreading as an epidemic in the high echelons of th

India 'neglecting' air, water, vegetation as its world air quality index ranking decelerates

By Dr Gurinder Kaur* The World Air Quality Report 2023 , prepared by a Swiss technology company IQAir, was released on 19 March 2024. According to this report, India is the third most polluted country in the world after Bangladesh and Pakistan, and the capital of India, New Delhi, is the most polluted capital in the world.