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

Mystery around Gujarat PSU 'transfer' of Rs 250 crore to Canadian firm Karnalyte

By AK Luke, IAS (Retd)*
While returning from a Board meeting of the Oil India Limited (OIL) in Ahmedabad some time in 2012, two officers of the Gujarat State Fertilizers and Chemicals Ltd (GSFC), Nanavaty and Patel,  saw me off at the airport. They said they were proceeding to Canada in connection with a project GSFC had entered into with a company there. As we were running late, I hastily wished them the best.

J&K continues to be haunted, as parts of India 'degenerate' into quasi-Kashmir situation

By Rajendran Narayanan*, Sandeep Pandey**
“Jab har saans mein bandook dikhe toh baccha kaise bekhauf rahe?” (How can a child be fearless when she sees a gun in every breath?) remarked Anwar, a gardener from Srinagar, when asked about the situation in Kashmir. On November 30, 2019, a walk through an iron gate in a quiet neighbourhood of Srinagar took us inside a public school. It was 11 am when typically every school is abuzz with activity. Not here though.

Indians have made 119 nations their ‘karma bhumi’: US-based Hindu NGO tells Rupani

Counterview Desk
In a stinging letter to Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani, the US-based Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR), referring to the report citing his justification for the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) – that “while Muslims can choose any one of the 150 Islamic countries in the world (for residence), India is the only country for Hindus" – has said, he should remember, Hindus have made several countries, including USA, their home.

Savarkar in Ahmedabad 'declared' two-nation theory in 1937, Jinnah followed 3 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.

Dalits rights meet planned on how citizenship law 'negates' Ambedkar's equality focus

By Our Representative
A Dalit rights meet has been planned at the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK), Sanand, Ahmedabad district, to discuss implications of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), passed by Parliament on December 10-11, for Dalits, Adivasis and other marginalized sections. Announcing the decision, DSK director Martin Macwan said, the meet would take place on December 25, 2019, at 11.00 am, to commemorate the anniversary of burning of copies of Manusmriti by Dr BR Ambedkar.

What about religious persecution of Dalits, Adivasis, asks anti-CAA meet off Ahmedabad

By Rajiv Shah
A well-attended Dalit rights meet under the banner “14 Pe Charcha” (discussion on Article 14 of the Indian Constitution), alluding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi well-known campaign phrase of the 2014 Parliamentary elections, “chai pe charcha” (discussion over cup of tea), organized off Ahmedabad, has resolved on Wednesday to hold a 14 kilometres-long rally on April 14 to oppose the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), enacted on December 10-11.

Upendra Baxi on foolish excellence, Indian judges and Consitutional cockroaches

By Rajiv Shah
In a controversial assertion, top legal expert Upendra Baxi has sought to question India's Constitution makers for neglecting human rights and social justice. Addressing an elite audience in Ahmedabad, Prof Baxi said, the constitutional idea of India enunciated by the Constituent Assembly tried to resolve four key conflicting concepts: governance, development, rights and justice.

Kerala governor turned History Congress into political arena, 'insulted' Prof Irfan Habib

Counterview Desk
In a signed statement, office bearers of the Aligarh Society of History and Archaeology (ASHA), Prof Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi (president), Prof Jabir Raza (vice-president), Prof Manvendra Kumar Pundhir (secretary) and Prof Farhat Hasan (joint secretary), have said that Kerala governor Arif Mohammad Khan had sought to insult veteran historian Prof Irfan Habib, 88, at the 80th session of the Indian History Congress, even as turning it into his “political arena”.

Gandhi's grandson, Khudai Khidmatgar chief among advisers to US Hindu rights group

By Our Representative
The Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR), a US-wide advocacy organization claiming to be committed to the "ideals of multi-religious pluralism in the United States, India and beyond", advocate peace, justice and human rights of all communities from a Hindu perspective, has declared it has appointed a group of advisors, including Mahatma Gandhi's grandson Rajmohan Gandhi.