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From JNU to Ramya: Abusing sedition law hints at rising Jingoism?

K M Munshi, a popular politician from Gujarat moved an amendment in the constituent assembly in 1948, seeking a replacement for the word sedition with a better word or phrase in the IPC section 124-A. He observed that the word sedition restricts the freedom of speech. His speech in the Constituent Assembly in 1947 explained why he suggested such an amendment
Ramya, alias Divya Spandana, is facing sedition charges

Actress Ramya who is known as the golden girl of Kannada cinema was gheroed by some pro-Hindutva activists at the Mangalore airport. Some of the protestors have thrown eggs on her car. The actress is facing sedition charges after a lawyer registered a civil lawsuit against her in ‘Kodagu’, a place in Southern Karnataka.

Ramya, a former Congress MP from Mandya constituency of Karnataka had visited Islamabad as part of a SAARC delegation of young lawmakers. She made a statement- “Pakistan is not hell. People, there are just like us. They treated us very well,” during a rally in her former constituency Mandya, after the Pak visit. She referenced Defence minister Manohar Parikkar’s statement that ‘ going to Pakistan is like going to hell.’

A lawyer filed a civil case against her under IPC sections 124-A (sedition) and 511 (punishable for attempting to commit offences) in Kodagu. Ramya stood by her statement and told that she is not going to apologise. “With a complaint of sedition filed against me, I stand by my remarks that Pakistan is not hell and I see no reason to withdraw or apologise for it. It’s ironical that in a country where people get away with crimes such as a murder, those that seek peace are targeted,” an explanation written by Ramya read.

“It’s ironical that in a country where people get away with crimes such as a murder, those that seek peace are targeted,” an explanation written by Ramya read. (Source Indian express)

Sedition is a draconian law which was introduced by Macaulay in 1860 to suppress the freedom movements. K M Munshi, a popular politician from Gujarat moved an amendment in the constituent assembly in 1948, seeking a replacement for the word sedition with a better word or phrase in the IPC section 124-A. He observed that the word sedition restricts the freedom of speech. His speech in the Constituent Assembly in 1947 explained why he suggested such an amendment.

“The word sedition has been a word of varying import and has created considerable doubt in the minds of not only the members of this House but of Courts of Law all over the world. A hundred and fifty years ago in England, in holding a meeting or conducting a procession was considered sedition. But the public opinion has changed considerably since and now that we have a democratic Government a line must be drawn between criticism of Government which should be welcome and incitement which would undermine the security or order on which civilised life is based, or which is calculated to overthrow the State. This amendment, therefore, seeks to use words which properly answer to the implication of the word Sedition as understood by the present generation in a democracy and therefore there is no substantial change; the equivocal word sedition only is sought to be deleted from the article,” said K M Munshi in the constituent assembly.

But sedition is being widely abused by some politicians and the government officials to suppress criticism. ‘JNU sedition controversy’ was one of those incidents in which the section 124-A was allegedly misused to arrest the JNUSU president Kanaihya Kumar and another student Umar Khalid.

Kanaihya Kumar also had to suffer physical assault from the Hindu nationalist group when he was brought to the court. Attackers were led by the lawyers who belong to the far right wing organisations. They had beaten him in front of the media and the Judges.

Amnesty International is also facing a sedition charge in India. On 15th of August, Karnataka police filed an FIR under IPC section 124-A against the popular human rights watch dog, for organising an event as part of a campaign to seek justice for human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir. The FIR was filed on the basis of a complaint filed by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a student organisation affiliated with the RSS.

However, Amnesty has denied the allegations of the complainants and said that the event had no connection with any anti-national activities. It involved discussions with families from Kashmir, who were featured in a 2015 report, who had travelled to Bengaluru to narrate their personal stories of grief and loss.

“Merely organising an event to defend constitutional values is now being branded ‘anti-India’ and criminalised,” explained Aakar Patel, Executive Director, Amnesty International India in a statement published by the organisation.

Malabar Gold and Diamonds, an international jewellery brand owned by a Kerala-based business group had to face both online backlash and legal notices after they had published a Facebook post regarding the Pakistan’s Independence day celebrations. “Participate in the Pakistan’s Independence Day Quiz with Malabar Gold and Diamonds and you could win some exciting gift vouchers,” the Facebook ad read. Kshethra Bhumi SamrakshanaVedhi Bharat (KBSV) a pro-Hindutva organisation based in Kerala filed a complaint against the Jewellery group for ‘sedition and anti-national acts.’

 

Extreme patriotism by the Hindu nationalistic parties has a bearing on social harmony by creating zealotry and thereby mob violence. Freedom of expression is being questioned by the growing jingoistic society of India. Here are some other strange incidents by which the sedition rule was misused:

  • A Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was arrested on 8 September 2012 for allegedly defaming the Parliament, the Constitution of India and the Ashok Emblem and trying to spread hatred and disrespect against the Government.
  • The Uttar Pradesh police slapped sedition charges against 67 Kashmiri students of a private university in Meerut, for allegedly cheering Pakistan’s victory over India in the Asia Cup.
  • 124-A was wrongly used in the cases where the people like activist Binayak Sen, author Arundhati Roy were charged with sedition.

A five-member Supreme Court Bench headed by the then Chief Justice Bhuvaneshwar Prasad Sinha questioned the validity of 124-A in the verdict of the case – Kedar Nath Singh vs The State Of Bihar on 20 January 1962.

“….criticism of public measures or comment on Government action, however strongly worded, would be within reasonable limits and would be consistent with the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression. It is only when the words, written or spoken, etc. which have the pernicious tendency or intention of creating public disorder or disturbance of law and order that the law steps in to prevent such activities in the interest of public order,” read the judgement.

Malabar Gold has denied the allegations and explained that they were not aware of it, as an international company takes care of their ad campaigns.

There is a dire need for politicians and the people to revisit their concept of patriotism and distinguish it from jingoism and xenophobia.

Article 19 of the Constitution ensures freedom of expression for every citizen of India. Expressing an opinion about a foreign country can not be accounted as seditious.

“There is nothing wrong in Ramya’s statement. If visiting Pakistan and enjoying their hospitableness is a crime, many BJP leaders would have been arrested so far. The list may include, Vajpayee, Rajanath Singh and Narendra Modi,” said P V Dinesh, a senior supreme court lawyer.

“Those people who have harassed and gheroed Ramya should be arrested. They have violated the constitution,” added Dinesh.

Elsewhere, other people have been celebrating the politicians of the foreign countries in the National capital. Hindu Sena, a right-wing Hindu group celebrated US Republican party candidate Donald Trump’s birthday at Jantar Mantar on 14th of June. The same organisation had organised another prayer event on 11th of May at the same venue, in support of Mr Trump winning the US presidential election. None of these people has been questioned yet, regarding their support for a foreign politician or ‘seditious activities’.

 

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