Wrong Arm Of The Law
Why ‘sedition’ rings hollow in India 2012
The law Section 124(A) of the Indian Penal Code, 1870; non-bailable offence
The definition Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India
The accusers Other than the State, even individuals are free to file charges
The punishment Imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.
The misuse While the Supreme Court has specifically laid down that the provisions of section 124(A) are only made out where there is a tendency to public disorder by use of violence or incitement to violence, the clause has been grossly misused. While convictions are rare, the long and tortuous legal process is seen as a deterrent to others.
The victims The law is being used to punish fierce critics of the government, including political
dissenters, human rights activists and journalists
Prakash Ram, a farmer from a village near Haldwani in Uttarakhand, had never heard of Mao Tse Tung. Ironically enough, his first lesson on Chairman Mao and his ideology came not from some gun-toting guerrilla but the Uttarakhand police. Accusing him of being a Maoist, they arrested him oncharges of sedition on August 30, 2004. It has taken eight years for the 28-year-old to be finally cleared of the taint, by the Rudrapur sessions court this month. “I spent two of the best years of my life behind bars (he was granted bail in 2006) and six more years in my legal battle for justice,” he says. “I may be free now but this arrest has spoilt my reputation and will make it difficult for me to get work. Who will pay for this? Will someone be held responsible?”
The dark days of Emergency, rung in 37 years ago this week, may have become a distant memory for some, but for many others, an Emergency-like situation is a recurring reality. Just as in 1975 and the year after, when the State suppressed dissent and abolished civil rights, the democratic republic of India continues to target disaffected voices and accuse of sedition anyone it sees as a threat.
Lost years Prakash Ram, a farmer from Haldwani, accused of being a Maoist. (Photograph by Tribhuvan Tiwari)
Rajinder Sachar, a retired chief justice of the Delhi High Court, thinks the situation today is actually worse. “In 1975,” he says, “the Emergency was more of a political game played by one political party but now everyone is restricted from speaking. One law after the other is passed, stopping one from speaking openly. A situation is being created where anybody can be declared anti-national. We are actually going through an undeclared Emergency.”
One of the latest victims of Section 124(A), a law that deals with sedition and which is a handy tool for the government to target trenchant critics, is Seema Azad and her husband Vishwa Vijay. A journalist couple from Allahabad, they had written fearlessly about corruption and illegal mining in Uttar Pradesh. Charged with sedition, the two were sentenced to life imprisonment and a fine of Rs 70,000 by a sessions court in Allahabad on June 8.
Seema and Vijay were arrested in February 2010 at the Allahabad railway station on their return from New Delhi. They were accused of being members of the banned CPI (Maoist) group simply because the police deemed the literature recovered from them to be “anti-national”. Their advocate Ravi Kiran Jain argues that this verdict ignores the observations the two-judge bench of the Supreme Court made in 2011 while hearing the bail plea of Dr Binayak Sen, who too was charged with sedition. “If someone has the autobiography of Gandhi at his home, will he be called a Gandhian,” the apex court had famously asked the prosecution lawyer. “Even in this case,” says Jain, “Seema and her husband were simply in possession of some literature on Maoism. This does not make them Maoists.” The advocate now plans to file an appeal on behalf of the duo in the Allahabad High Court.
Mission aborted Salem’s Piyush Sethia
Other than Dr Sen and the Allahabad couple, there were at least six other high-profile cases involving sedition in 2010. They include Arundhati Roy, who was booked under Section 124(A) for making a speech supporting azadi in Kashmir, and Salem-based environmental activist Piyush Sethia, who was accused of sedition for disrupting a Republic Day ceremony in Salem in 2010 by attempting to distribute a controversial anti-mining leaflet. In fact, things took on a farcical turn when Srinagar-based lecturer Noor Mohammed Bhatt was slapped with the sedition charge in December the same year for including a question in an English paper asking if stone-pelters were the real heroes and asking students to translate from Urdu to English a passage that read, “Kashmiri blood is being spilled like water, Kashmiri children are being killed by police and Kashmiri women are being showered with bullets.”
There is no official record of the total number of cases involving sedition, but the sudden spurt in such cases has generated much concern. Civil rights groups have launched a nationwide campaign to have the law repealed. Says veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar, who was in jail during the Emergency, “The sedition law is a weapon in the hand of the State which evokes doubts, suspicion and hatred in the mind of the people against whom the charges are made. Such an undemocratic and anti-people law must be repealed immediately. In fact, it should have been done many years back.” Most of these cases (see Memories of Another Day) have targeted people who have fearlessly spoken up for the rights of the marginalised, especially the Dalits and tribals.
It was for this reason that Sudhir Dhawale, a Dalit rights activist from Mumbai, was picked up by the Maharashtra police from Wardha in January last year for being a “Naxal supporter”. Still lodged in a Nagpur jail, many speculate the real reason he was picked up was his writings and activities that helped mobilise Dalits for their rights. Like him, Gananath Patra, the 73-year-old convenor of Chasi Muliya Adivasi Sangh in Narayanpatna in Orissa, too was charged with sedition and put behind bars in January 2010. He was released on bail earlier this month due to poor health but on the condition that he must not engage in any activism. He had earlier helped tribals in and around Narayanpatna take back around 10,000 acres of land that had been forcefully acquired from them.
Of course, it is activism in areas under the grip of left-wing extremism that the government is extremely sensitive about. Sethia, the Salem-based activist, found himself in the crosshairs precisely for this. Carrying pamphlets criticising Operation Green Hunt, he was set to spread his message cycling all the way to Sivaganga, the constituency Union home minister P. Chidambaram represents. However, the Tamil Nadu police arrested him in Salem itself, even before he could distribute the pamphlets at the R-Day ceremony there. Out on bail since February 2010, the sedition charges still hold. The real cause for his arrest though, Sethia believes, is his fight against illegal mining in the region. He was the main litigant in a case in the Madras High Court that resulted in the closure of a local mining unit that belonged to Vedanta. Funnily enough, there has not been a single hearing in Sethia’s case so far. “Either they should drop the charges, or they should go ahead with the case and finish it off. It is a sort of leash on my activities,” says Sethia, whose questioning gaze encompasses areas like the Forests Rights Act and water pollution and privatisation.
The nuclear flashpoint Koodankulam agitators are viewed with suspicion
Nuclear energy is another area that the government, including at the state level, has begun to get touchy about. The slightest whiff of opposition is promptly dismissed as anti-national. Little wonder then that as many as 3,500 protesters were charged with sedition in the aftermath of the Koodankulam protests in Tamil Nadu, where locals were agitating against the construction of a nuclear power plant. Says V. Suresh, an advocate at the Madras High Court and someone who has spent time with the locals, “While laws are meant to protect the people, in this case, the sedition law has been clearly misused by the government to further its interests.”
Anand Swaroop Verma, Delhi-based editor of monthly journal Samkaleen Teesri Duniya, expresses concern at a different level. This crackdown by the State, he says, has been met with only rare instances of media criticism and scrutiny. He attributes this to a media cooption strategy which ensures reporting of sedition cases is largely favourable towards the government. “Six years back, the PM, in a conference on internal security with CMs, had urged them to coopt the media and get them to play a more positive role in the fight against terrorism,” he adds. The media, of course, often colludes wilfully.
Even when filed on flimsy grounds, the legal hassles and harassment the sedition charge involves serve as a deterrent to others, forced as they are to think twice before taking on the might of the State. Ask E. Rati Rao, vice president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties in Karnataka. While she was booked under sedition for asking uncomfortable questions on encounter deaths in the Malanadu area in October 2007, the case against her was dismissed in September 2010 after the police failed to file a chargesheet. “All they wanted to do was just terrorise me, and by doing so, terrorise others,” she says. “This sedition law and democracy do not go together. It is leading the State towards fascism.”
For a Congress-led government that draws its inspiration and legacy from Jawaharlal Nehru, it would do well to act on what the country’s first prime minister had to say on the sedition clause in a parliamentary debate in 1951 on the First Amendment to the Constitution. “Now so far I am concerned that particular section (124-A) is highly objectionable and obnoxious and it should have no place both for practical and historical reasons...the sooner we get rid of it the better.”
Memories Of Another Day
How a repressive 19th-century law is being indiscriminately unleashed on citizens fighting for the rights of their fellow citizens
Source: Sedition Laws and the Death of Free Speech in India
By Panini Anand and Debarshi Dasgupta
One should congratulate the authors (A Stick Called 124(A), Jul 2) for the amazing job in portraying a just and necessary law as a demonic one. Sedition is the worst kind of crime...you can’t bite the hand that feeds you. Disrupting the R-Day ceremony, Arundhati Roy wanting azadi for Kashmir—can any sane person approve of such activities? Is our nation a joke?
Apropos the piece A Stick Called 124(A) and Arundhati Roy’s interview (‘Terrorism isn’t the disease, egregious injustice is’), in your July 2 issue. We limit our discussion to the violence in Dandakaranya between the Maoists and the government and avoid using the word “terrorism”, because we don’t think what’s happening there is terrorism. Even so, we appreciate that Arundhati seeks a reasonably just society and wants the adivasis to live a life of peace in harmony with the rest of society. The Maoist violence is a response to the structural violence of the government of India, and we, as members of the Samatha Swaraj Mitra Mandal, have initiated a movement based on what the Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi taught—the path of empathy and non-violence as a means to gaining trust. Like Gandhiji’s Sevashram, we propose to start ashrams in every block of the violence-affected areas. The first is coming up in a village called Chatti in the Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh. We would like to appeal to like-minded youth and others to join in our efforts. We would also like to appeal to other activists to explore our strategy so that the path of absolute ahimsa disables the “stick called 124(A)”.
>> We still have treason laws. Why do we need seditionlaws?
We have IPC. Why did the Maha govt need to invoke MCOCA against Malegaon accused?
>> If some one works actively to dismantle India, can he be charged with sedition?
We still have treason laws. Why do we need seditionlaws?
" Sedition laws have no place in modern democracies"
If some one works actively to dismantle India, can he be charged with sedition?
Outlook India : A Stick Called 124(A)
The State finds a handy tool in a colonial law to quell dissent
"Section 124 (a) of the IPC that refering to sedition and other connected sections carrying similar laws , must be repealed as these carry no benefits to Aam Aadmi.
The draconian provision is a legacy of the colonial British empire . The subjects have changed but the present ruler are more loyal than the Queen.The State is misusing the sedition laws against ‘free speech’ We are living in a state of undeclared Emergency.
The Media is gagged or paid handsomely to shut up and put up.The ‘Outlook India’ is an honourable exception. The politicians seem reluctant to repeal the rule despite clear observations of Indian Supreme court. Sedition Laws in India are irrelevant and anachronistic.
A K SAXENA (A retired civil servant)
>> Sedition laws have no place in modern democracies
Scoundrels, worshipping dictatorial tendencies and proposing ban on BJP from contesting elections talking about democratic values?
Is your local Madrassa having a contest about which of the member jehadis shall make the most absurd statements?
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