British used the sedition law to curb free speech during India’s independence struggle. Now the government is using it to silence and harass those with divergent opinions.
By Rakesh Raman
The India branch of human rights organization Amnesty International has launched an online petition demanding the repeal of sedition law, as the Indian government is misusing the law to suppress any kind of opposition.
The petition addressed to Rajnath Singh, Home Minister of India, says that the British used the sedition law to curb free speech during India’s independence struggle. Now the government is using it to silence and harass those with divergent opinions.
The debate around sedition is getting louder by the day, as the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP government in India is labeling everyone an anti-national if they did not agree with the Hindu mindset of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent outfit of BJP.
While Modi projects himself as a Hindu fundamentalist, he is suppressing even rational dissent with all the powers that people of India bestowed upon him in the 2014 elections when he became the Prime Minister of India.
The Modi-government’s new target is the student communities in India for the RSS aims to capture the vulnerable minds of the youth in order to spread its philosophy of Hinduism in India.
As Modi is spearheading the dangerous religious campaign, he is cunningly promoting Hinduism under the garb of nationalism. In the Indian universities, he is using the student wing of BJP – Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) – to spread a culture of animosity and hatred. Those who oppose Modi’s divisive tactics of dividing India on religious lines are being branded as anti-nationals or terrorists under sedition charges.
Modi’s BJP is not only using the police force to quell the opposing voices of students, but it is also using hooligans on its rolls to beat BJP opponents in broad daylight while police keep watching the violence.
The latest victims of BJP’s high-handedness are a few students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) including the students union president Kanhaiya Kumar. These students have been arrested by the police under sedition law on the basis of a TV news clip, which many believe has been tampered with because the TV news company works under the influence of the BJP government. It is a known fact that most media companies in India are corrupt.
In the JNU case, Delhi police showed an unprecedented hurry in arresting student leader Kanhaiya Kumar and his two friends who have been told by the police to prove their innocence, even as the law says that you are innocent till you are proven guilty.
It is believed that the Delhi police officials are acting at the instance of BJP government that wants to suppress students’ dissent by using police force. It is also said that the goons who attacked Kanhaiya Kumar and others in the court complex enjoy BJP’s support; that is why police did not arrest them.
Opposition political parties – including Congress and CPI(M) – have demanded the immediate removal of Delhi police commissioner B. S. Bassi, as the local police force has failed to maintain a peaceful atmosphere in the city. Moreover, it’s always possible for police to use brutal means to extract any kind of confession from the arrested people.
For instance, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has observed that the statement which was issued by the police as an appeal on behalf of Kanhaiya Kumar was not written by him voluntarily. The content, construction and framework of the statement were as dictated by the police, NHRC said.
A copy of the inquiry report submitted by the NHRC team has been forwarded to the Commissioner of Police, Delhi and the Director General of Prisons, Tihar Jail for their comments, to be received by the Commission, by Friday.
Amnesty India argues that Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which defines the offence of “sedition”, is a colonial-era relic. It was enacted by the British to repress India’s independence struggle.
[ Also Read: How India Abuses Children’s Right to Education ]
Mahatma Gandhi, who was imprisoned under the law, called it “the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen”.
Courts have ruled that any expression must involve incitement to imminent violence for it to amount to sedition. But the law has been used again and again to arrest journalists, activists, and human rights defenders simply for expressing critical views, Amnesty India writes in the said petition.
The sedition law is excessively vague and broad, making it an easy tool to stifle dissent and debate. There is no good way to apply Section 124A. It does not comply with international human rights law. It violates the right to freedom of expression under the Indian Constitution. And it goes against India’s tradition of tolerance, Amnesty India says.
The petition, therefore, urges the Modi government to repeal this abusive law.
You also can read: More Articles by the RMN Editor, Rakesh Raman
Photo courtesy: Amnesty