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

Impact of state repression? Kashmir's 65% people prefer independence: Cambridge study

By Rajiv Shah 
Even as the Government of India’s controversial move to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) into two union territories is not only refusing to down die but has acquired international dimensions, a recent study, published by the Cambridge University Press, has claimed “pro-independence attitudes” among that 65% of Kashmiris, warning, this sentiment worsens when the state machinery resorts “repressive violence”.

Hindus to be 'sent' to Kashmir? Despite Israeli settlements, peace eludes the region

By Anand K Sahay*
Curfew, news and communications blackout, transportation shut-down... News reports from Kashmir are worrying. So are the views relayed through the media, especially television. Old-fashioned repression seems to be consorting comfortably with expressions of concern “for our Kashmiri brethren”. We are looking at Orwell’s 1984 in the making.

Dholera 'inundated': Gujarat govt tries selling low lying area as top smart city site

Counterview Desk
Even as the Dholera Special Investment Region Regional Development Authority (DSIRDA) of the Gujarat government was busy organising a junket for Gujarat-based journalists for the area sought to be sold as an ideal special investment region (SIR) for industrialists, well-known farmers' activist Sagar Rabari has wondered why no investor has so far agreed to put in money in an area situated in Ahmedabad district along the Gulf of Khambhat.

Congress' anti-democratic laws led to Modi govt's 'Constitutional' changes: Scholars

Counterview Desk
A large number of academics* said to be belonging to several Indian and international institutions, even as taking strong exception to the Narendra Modi government's alleged move to amend the Constitution through "illegitimate" means, have taken strong exception to their colleagues in academia who we have become "all too accustomed to adopting a calculated silence in the face of such indignities."

Kashmir normal? Schoolboys, teenagers being arbitrarily picked up, detained: Report

Counterview Desk
A four-person team, consisting of Jean Dr├Ęze, well-known development economist; Kavita Krishnan, who is with the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist); Maimoona Mollah of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA); and Vimal Bhai of the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), back from a five-day fact-finding mission (August 9-13) from Kashmir, has said that people they spoke to “expressed their pain, anger, and sense of betrayal against the Government of India.”
In a report, “Kashmir Caged”, released along with a short eight-minute film, they said, the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, dissolution of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), and bifurcating it into two Union Territories, is not being supported by anyone they met, except for BJP spokesperson on Kashmir affairs Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo, who claimed 46% vote share in J&K.
Excerpts from the report: When our flight landed, and the airlines staff announced that passeng…

Modi's Gujarati mind? Why govt move to 'sell-off' defence PSUs isn't in national interest

By Sandeep Pandey*
The Standing Committee on Defence, 2017-18, of the 16th Lok Sabha highlights the idea of Buy Indian-IDDM (Indigenously Designed Developed and Manufactured). The Committee expressed concern over the import content of equipments produced and developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Ordnance Factories (OFs) and defence Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) because of the dependence it creates for military hardware on foreign suppliers.

Central Gujarat effluent channel 'releasing' highly polluted industrial wastewater: PM told

Counterview Desk
Senior environmentalists of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS), Vadodara, Rohit Prajapati and Krishnakant, in an open letter to the Prime Minister, the Gujarat chief minister, the Gujarat chief secretary, and senior Government of India and Gujarat government officials dealing with environment, pollution and climate change have said that the authorities’ response their pleas to take action against the leakages and flow of polluted wastewater from the effluent channels of Central Gujarat industrial areas has met with complete inertia.

Can't go to court with RTI information, rule Ahmedabad authorities: Kankaria accident

By Pankti Jog*
In a shocking reply to an application filed by me, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) authorities have said that the information provided under the Right to Information (RT) Act should be used in court or in a judicial process. The Act is known to be a major tool that enables citizens to seek certified copies of documents, records from any public authority of state and Central government within 30 days, as per provisions of the Act.

Quit India Movement 'betrayal' and dubious role of Hindu Mahasabha, RSS leaders

By Shamsul Islam*
After the recent guillotine of Article 370, Hindutva ideologue Ram Madhav, while celebrating the occasion stated that it was honouring of the sacrifices of Dr Shyam Prasad Mukherjee and thousands others who laid down their lives for its removal. It is to be noted that Dr Mukherjee was a cadre of RSS and was groomed into a Hindutva leader by another Hindutva icon, VD Savarkar.

Strategy for united struggle against Hindutva 'fascism': Ideological silence is 'no option'

By Dr Bhabani Shankar Nayak*
Electoral alliance and opportunism of national and regional political parties, neoliberal economic marginalisation and soft secular Hindutva line pandering to Hindu majoritarianism laid the foundation of Hindutva fascism in post-colonial India.