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 Insisting that several laws either require to be repealed or urgently reformed, it says, in India, “if you disagree with something that can be said to promote ‘enmity’, jeopardise ‘national integration’, ‘maliciously’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

India under Modi among top 10 autocratizing nations, on verge of 'losing' democracy status

By Rajiv Shah
A new report, prepared by a top Swedish institute studying liberal democracy, has observed that there has been a sharp “dive in press freedom along with increasing repression of civil society in India associated with the current Hindu-nationalist regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.” The report places India among the top 10 countries that “have autocratized the most”. Other countries that have been identified for rolling towards autocracy are -- Hungary, Turkey, Poland, Serbia, Brazil, Mali, Thailand, Nicaragua and Zambia.

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.

RSS supremo Deoras 'supported' Emergency, but Indira, Sanjay Gandhi 'didn't respond'

By Shamsul Islam*
National Emergency was imposed on the country by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on June 25-26, 1975, and it lasted for 19 months. This period is considered as ''dark times' for Indian democratic polity. Indira Gandhi claimed that due to Jaiprakash Narayan's call to the armed forces to disobey the 'illegal' orders of Congress rulers had created a situation of anarchy and there was danger to the existence of Indian Republic so there was no alternative but to impose Emergency under article 352 of the Constitution.

Letter to friends, mentors: Coming together of class, communal, corona viruses 'scary'

By Prof (Dr) Mansee Bal Bhargava*
COVID greetings from Ahmedabad to dear mentors and friends from around the world…
I hope you are keeping well and taking care of yourself besides caring for the people around you. I’m writing to learn how is the science and the society coping with the prevention and cure of the pandemic. I’m also writing to share the state of the corona virus that is further complicated with the long-standing class and communal viruses.

Clean chit to British rulers, Muslim League? Karnataka to have Veer Savarkar flyovers

By Shamsul Islam*
The BJP government of Karnataka led by BS Yediyurappa is going to honour Hindutva icon VD Savarkar by naming two of the newly built major flyovers in Bangalore and Mangalore after him. There was a huge uproar against this decision of the RSS-BJP government as many pro-Kannada organisations with opposition parties and liberal-secular organizations questioned the logic to ignore so many freedom fighters, social reformers and others from within the state.

Hurried nod to Western Ghat projects: 16 lakh Goans' water security 'jeopardised'

Counterview Desk
Taking strong exception to "virtual clearances" to eco-sensitive projects in the Western Ghats, the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) in a statement has said urged for a review of the four-lane highway, 400 KV transmission line and double tracking of the railway line through the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park in Goa.

Disturbing signal? Reliance 'shifting focus' away from Indian petrochemical sector

By NS Venkataraman*
Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), a large Indian company, has expanded and grown in a spectacular manner during the last few decades, like of which no industrial group in India has performed before. RIL is now involved in multi various activities relating to petroleum refineries, petrochemicals, oil and gas exploration, coal bed methane, life sciences, retail business, communication network, (Jio platform) media/entertainment etc.

Case for nationalising India's healthcare system amidst 'strong' private control

Counterview Desk
A draft discussion note, prepared by Dr Maya Valecha, a Gujarat-based gynecologist and activist, sent to the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) as also a large number of activists, academics and professionals as an email alert, is all set to create a flutter among policy experts for its strong insistence on nationalizing India’s healthcare system.

Oxfam on WB project: ICT 'ineffective', privatised learning to worsen gender divide

By Rajiv Shah 
A top multinational NGO, with presence in several developed and developing countries, has taken strong exception to the World Bank part-funding Strengthening Teaching-Learning and Results for States (STARS) project in six Indian states – Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha – for its emphasis on information and communication technology (ICT)-enabled approaches for teacher development, student assessment and digital platform for early childhood education.