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

Girl child education: 20 major states 'score' better than Gujarat, says GoI report

By Rajiv Shah
A Government of India report, released last month, has suggested that “model” Gujarat has failed to make any progress vis-à-vis other states in ensuring that girls continue to remain enrolled after they leave primary schools. The report finds that, in the age group 14-17, Gujarat’s 71% girls are enrolled at the secondary and higher secondary level, which is worse than 20 out of 22 major states for which data have been made available.

Savarkar in Ahmedabad "declared support" to two-nation theory in 1937, followed by Jinnah three years later

By Our Representative
One of the top freedom fighters whom BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi revere the most, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was also a great supporter of the two nation theory for India, one for Hindus another for Muslims, claims a new expose on the man who is also known to be the original proponent of the concept of Hindutva.

Congress 'promises' cancellation of Adani power project: Jharkhand elections

Counterview Desk
Pointing out that people's issues take a backseat in Jharkhand's 2019 assembly elections, the state's civil rights organization, the Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha, a coalition of activists and people’s organisations, has said that political parties have largely ignored in their electoral manifestos the need to implement the fifth schedule of the Constitution in a predominantly tribal district.

Hindutva founders 'borrowed' Nazi, fascist idea of one flag, one leader, one ideology

By Shamsul Islam*
With the unleashing of the reign of terror by the RSS/BJP rulers against working-class, peasant organizations, women organizations, student movements, intellectuals, writers, poets and progressive social/political activists, India also witnessed a series of resistance programmes organized by the pro-people cultural organizations in different parts of the country. My address in some of these programmes is reproduced here... 
***  Before sharing my views on the tasks of artists-writers-intellectuals in the times of fascism, let me briefly define fascism and how it is different from totalitarianism. Totalitarianism is political concept, a dictatorship of an individual, family or group which prohibits opposition in any form, and exercises an extremely high degree of control over public and private life. It is also described as authoritarianism.
Whereas fascism, while retaining all these repressive characteristics, also believes in god-ordained superiority of race, cultur…

Ex-World Bank chief economist doubts spurt in India's ease of doing business rank

By Rajiv Shah
This is in continuation of my previous blog where I had quoted from a commentary which top economist Prof Kaushik Basu had written in the New York Times (NYT) a little less than a month ago, on November 6, to be exact. He recalled this article through a tweet on November 29, soon after it was made known that India's growth rate had slumped (officially!) to 4.5%.

With RSS around, does India need foreign enemy to undo its democratic-secular fabric?

By Shamsul Islam*
Many well-meaning liberal and secular political analysts are highly perturbed by sectarian policy decisions of RSS/BJP rulers led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, especially after starting his second inning. They are vocal in red-flagging lynching incidents, policies of the Modi government on Kashmir, the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the demand for 'Bharat Ratna' to Savarkar who submitted 6-7 mercy petitions to the British masters (getting remission of 40 years out of 50 years' sentence), and the murder of constitutional norms in Goa, Karnataka and now in Maharashtra.

Post-Balakot, danger that events might spiral out of control is 'greater, not less'

By Tapan Bose*
The fear of war in South Asia is increasing. Tensions are escalating between India and Pakistan after the Indian defence minister's announcement in August this year that India may revoke its current commitment to only use nuclear weapons in retaliation for a nuclear attack, known as ‘no first use’. According to some experts who are watching the situation the risk of a conflict between the two countries has never been greater since they both tested nuclear weapons in 1998.

Rushdie, Pamuk, 260 writers tell Modi: Aatish episode casts chill on public discourse

Counterview Desk
As many as 260 writers, journalists, artists, academics and activists across the world, including Salman Rushdie, British Indian novelist, Orhan Pamuk, Turkish novelist and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in literature, and Margaret Atwood, Canadian poet and novelist, have called upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi to review the decision to strip British Indian writer Aatish Taseer of his overseas Indian citizenship.

Worrying signs in BJP: Modi, Shah begin 'cold-shouldering' Gujarat CM, party chief

By RK Misra*
The political developments in neighbouring Maharashtra where a Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government assumed office has had a trickle down effect in Gujarat with both the ruling BJP and the Congress opposition going into revamp mode.

'Favouring' tribals and ignoring Adivasis? Behind coercion of India's aborigines

By Mohan Guruswamy*
Tribal people account for 8.2% of India’s population. They are spread over all of India’s States and Union Territories. Even so they can be broadly classified into three groupings. The first grouping consists of populations who predate the Indo-Aryan migrations. These are termed by many anthropologists as the Austro-Asiatic-speaking Australoid people.