Skip to main content

Sedition a potent weapon with India's rulers: 179 arrests, 112 cases filed, 2 convictions

Manjit Mahanta, Akhil Gogoi, Hiren Gohain
By Shahana Bhattacharya, Deepika Tandon*
The slapping of sedition charges against writer and academic Hiren Gohain, Akhil Gogoi, leader of the Kisan Mukti Sangram Samiti, and senior journalist Manjit Mahanta on January 7, 2019, and the process of filing charge-sheet in the 2016 sedition case against Jawharlal Nehru University (JNU) students Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid, and Anirban Bhattacharya, seven Kashmiri students, Aquib Hussain, Mujeeb Hussain, Muneeb Hussain, Umar Gul, Rayeea Rasool, Bashir Bhat and 38 unknown others, once again illustrate the character of the law on sedition as a potent weapon in the hands of ruling dispensations.
While the figures of sedition cases for 2017 onwards are not available, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows a a spike in arrests for sedition between 2014 and 2016. In early 2014 only nine persons were either in custody pending trial or on bail. Between 2014 and 2016, 179 people were arrested and 112 sedition cases filed with only two of the cases resulting in conviction.
Gohain and the two others have been booked for sedition for their role in a meeting opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. The reasons given being that they discussed “swadheenta” and allegedly slogans of “murdabad” were raised against the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister at the meeting.
In the JNU case, as is well known, the accused were booked for organizing an event in the University at which death penalty to Afzal Guru was criticized, and allegedly slogans of “azaadi” raised. In both cases the events have been construed as a threat to the integrity of India and attempts to provoke disaffection against the government.
The FIR against Gohain, Mahanta and Gogoi acknowledges the democratic nature of the meeting, and yet the charge of sedition is applied. It reads “the meeting was held democratically but these people threatened the sovereignty of the country and so I urge to take action against these people”. The video evidence in the JNU case did not show incitement to violence, and images were also morphed.
The timing of the FIRs on the day before the Bill came up before the Lok Sabha, and the filing of the chargesheet four months before national elections reveal the political intent of the government to muzzle dissent. The cases once again prove the intrinsic nature of the sedition law as a political weapon in that it allows for criminalizing expressions of dissent against the government.
Slogans about freedom, criticism of certain executive decisions and government policies are democratic expressions of diverse aspirations of people. The speeches of Gohain, Gogoi and Mahanta on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill are only one manifestation of mass opposition to the Bill, evident from continuing protests in the North East, not just Assam.
The apex court has been known to rule that harsh criticism of individual politicians, and government policies in itself is not sedition. Yet we have the Assam case where sections of speeches which are part of a larger opposition to a government policy have been taken out of context.
The SC had quashed sedition charges in Balwant Singh vs State of Punjab (1995) where the two accused were arrested for shouting pro-Khalistan and anti-India slogans. The court ruled that a few slogans could not possibly threaten public order or national sovereignity, but the JNU case has still been filed. Sedition cases have a history of collapsing because of the flimsy grounds on which they are filed. However, the consequences for the accused can be far reaching. After the filing of the sedition charges, Umar Khalid was rusticated by the University and he was not allowed to submit his PhD thesis.
The wide latitude offered for interpretation in wording of the law on sedition evident in the contradictions between various judicial pronouncements and the arbitrary use by police offer a history of the section as a potent political weapon in the hands of ruling dispensations to attack dissent and dissenters, while curtailing democratic rights.
The issue is not the abuse of the law on sedition but the very purpose behind the Section. Intended to curb people’s aspirations and anti-government protests in colonial India, the Sections on sedition remain on the statute books in independent India because they serve the same anti-people purpose, the only change being the national, class, caste, and religious character of the rulers.
People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) demands abolition of the section on sedition and quashing of FIRs in the JNU and Gawahati cases.
---
*Secretaries, People’s Union for Democratic Rights

Comments

TRENDING

Top upper caste judges 'biased' towards Dalit colleagues: US Bar Association report

By Rajiv Shah  A high profile report prepared by the influential  American Bar Association (ABA) Center for Human Rights , taking note of the fact that “in the 70-year history of the Indian Republic, only six Dalit judges have been appointed to the Supreme Court”, has taken strong exception to what it calls “lack of representation of Dalits” in the legal profession and the judiciary.

Unlike other revolutionaries, Hindutva icon wrote 5 mercy petitions to British masters

By Shamsul Islam*  The Hindutva icon VD Savarkar of the RSS-BJP rulers of India submitted not one, two,or three but five mercy petitions to the British masters! Savarkarites argue: “There are no evidences to prove that Savarkar collaborated with the British for his release from jail. In fact, his appeal for release was a ruse. He was well aware of the political developments outside and wanted to be part of it. So he kept requesting for his release. But the British authorities did not trust him a bit” (YD Phadke, ‘A complex Hero’, "The Indian Expres"s, August 31, 2004)

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.

Whither SDG goal? India's maternal mortality rate fall target 5.5% per yr, actual 4.5%

By Srinivas Goli, Parul Puri* The maternal mortality ratio (number of maternal deaths per one lakh live births) is a key and sensitive parameter used by health policymakers to monitor maternal health conditions in particular and women's status in general in a country.

Fresh efforts to subsume Buddhism within Hindu fold 'undermining' Ambedkar

By Aviral Anand*  From Yeola in 1935, when Dr Ambedkar announced that he would not die a Hindu, to Nagpur in 1956 when he converted to Buddhism, is a considerable distance in time. But, there was in him a need to make a public announcement in 1935 about moving away from Hinduism. 

How green revolution led to 'deterioration' of Punjab economy, land, air and water

By Dr Gian Singh*  A recent research paper, based on a survey of 320 farming families in four districts of Punjab, has tried to show that high crop densities and the use of inputs have led to degradation of land, air, water and humans through a rich agricultural structure. Although mechanization has increased agricultural productivity, it has also caused environmental degradation.

Savarkar 'opposed' Bhagat Singh's, Netaji's dream of India, supported British war efforts

By Shamsul Islam* In a shocking development, the student wing of the RSS put the busts of martyrs Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose with Savarkar's on one pedestal at the University of Delhi late in the night on August 20, 2019. Bhagat Singh sacrificed his life for a socialist-democratic-secular republic and Netaji raised Azad Hind Fauj (INA) consisting of people of all religions and regions for armed liberation of India.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Reverse progress in fight against hunger? 15.3% of India undernourished: GHI

By Harchand Ram*  Every year October 16 is observed as World Food Day to celebrate the date of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. In the year 2021, the theme for World Food Day is “Our actions are our Future-Better Production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life”.

Abysmal deficit of water, food waste recycle treatment 'impacting' Chennai life

By Simi Mehta*  We are living in a state where the most basic needs like food and water are not assured to the people residing in the urban areas, which account for the biggest sources of food and water wastage. Socio-economic inequality in society which is pervasive in urban areas is one of the main reasons for this.