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Does sedition law apply to JNU & Assam cases or is it being used as tool to stifle dissent?

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Ten JNU students, including Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya have been charge-sheeted under the sedition law for raising ‘anti-India’ slogans in 2016. Meanwhile, in Assam, scholar and Sahitya Akademi awardee Hiren Gohain has been charged with sedition for a speech he delivered against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, along with journalist Manjit Mahanta and Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti chief Akhil Gogoi.

ThePrint asks: Does sedition law apply to JNU & Assam cases or is it being used as tool to stifle dissent?

Sedition law is a colonial remnant and needs to be scrapped

Kapil Sibal
Senior leader, Congress

There is no iota of doubt that the sedition law needs to be scrapped right away. It is a remnant of the colonial era and there is no place for it in 21st century India. It was used in colonial era to force people to fall into line and it is being used today by the current BJP government to do the same.

Unless there is an intention to overthrow the government with violent means, or intention to disrupt public order followed by an act of similar proportion, the sedition law isn’t applicable. The Supreme Court has also clarified the same. Quite frankly, there are enough laws in the Indian Constitution that cover disruptions in law and order.

A Facebook comment, or a dissenting opinion, or participating in a protest is not sedition and shouldn’t be seen as that either.

As far as anti-India slogans are concerned, no patriot can ever accept them or support them. But, it’s one thing to not be accepting of them and another to charge the accused with sedition.

The UK has done away with sedition law, and in US, there’s hardly anyone booked under sedition because there has to be overwhelming evidence of the same.

People should keep in mind that criticism and anti-India sloganeering are not the same

Shazia Ilmi
Senior leader, BJP

Every law needs to be understood and updated regularly to keep up with the times. That said, the freedom of speech cannot exist without reasonable restrictions.

A central university cannot be seen as a place where anti-India slogans are raised. Not just that, the slogans also challenged the Supreme Court verdict against the sentencing of Afzal Guru. Such incendiary and inflammatory slogans have the ability to pave the way for actual violence. Why can’t we nip such a possibility in the bud?

We live in a vibrant democracy where executive and judiciary are separate; and the judiciary works autonomously. Sloganeering against the government is one thing, but to question an SC judgment is a serious offence.

As far as dissent is concerned, every citizen is free to voice their concerns. For instance, Naseeruddin Shah and Aamir Khan were not charged with sedition just because they were concerned with the state of Muslims in the country. While I disagree with them, I believe they have every right to have an opinion.

Similarly, when I was part of the Anna Hazare movement and protesting the corruption under the UPA, we were thrown into jail. I believe that was entirely incorrect as we had a right to criticise the government of the day.

Criticism and anti-India sloganeering are not the same, and the critical difference must be kept in mind.

In a vibrant democracy like India, people should have the right to say what they want

B.S. Chauhan
Former Supreme Court judge and former chairman, Law Commission of India

The sedition law exists for a very specific set of offences and cannot be used offhand for any sloganeering. Even if the sloganeering is supposedly anti-India, it doesn’t necessarily tantamount to sedition. As far as the sedition cases booked against JNU students and academicians in Assam are concerned, it is for the court to take cognizance of them in light of the existing law explained by the courts.

The law commission was working on a paper to discuss these very ideas. In a vibrant democracy like India, people should have the right to say what they want. However, the final report could not be prepared.

The parliamentarians too need to clarify what Section 124A is specifically meant for. There is widespread confusion over what purpose the law is. Sections 153A and 153B of the IPC, among others, already address most offences. Section 124A is only applicable to speech inciting violence, followed by actual violence.

The sedition law can be misused. However, any law can be misused and the mere misuse of law doesn’t imply that it should be quashed. Misuse of a law is not enough ground for removing the law.

Don’t project perpetrators of anti-India activities as victims

Arun Anand
CEO, Indraprastha Vishwa Samvad Kendra, and author of ‘Know About RSS’

The cases of sedition against the JNU students are justified. It is an open secret that they raised slogans against their own country. The event was widely reported in the media. Now a charge sheet has been filed. The case of sedition imposed in Assam is also a response of the state to the call given by some activists to break India.

The sedition law has been put in place to specifically deal with such elements in society who are anti-India. The freedom of expression granted by our Constitution cannot be misused in the propaganda war against the Indian state.

The Left-leaning activists, posing as intellectuals, support Naxalism and are creating an anti-Indian narrative in the intellectual space. Many of them were so entrenched in the system run by the UPA government for ten years that no action could be taken against them, and institutions like JNU, funded by the taxpayers’ money, became breeding grounds for Naxalites and anti-Indian activists.

The sedition cases have come as a bolt out of the blue for some of them. So, there is another attempt to project the perpetrators as victims. Let the court decide who stands where. Until then, we cannot give the accused in these cases a clean chit.

In a democracy, where sloganeering is oxygen and dissent is blood, sedition has no place

Maneesh Chhibber
Editor, Investigations and special initiatives, ThePrint

Young students booked for sedition by Delhi Police. An 80-year-old scholar booked under the same charge by Assam Police. We may have entered the new millennium almost two decades back, but our police and security establishment is stuck in the colonial mindset.

What else can explain these charges – all on extremely flimsy grounds, even if you accept the highly-suspect police claim that anti-India slogans were raised at the JNU event – when even the British, who introduced the sedition law when they ruled India to throttle the cry for independence, left our shores over seven decades back.

Since Independence, successive governments have happily used Section 124A to stifle dissent, muzzle freedom of expression and curb anti-government movements. Sometimes, one wonders if the British ever left India.

In fact, the question that we should be asking our governments and courts is if India in 2019 should even have such a regressive and clearly unconstitutional law.

But, by invoking this law over and over again, the government and the police have given us the answer.

They don’t seem to be bothered that in a participative democracy, where slogan-shouting is the oxygen and dissent is the blood, sedition has no place.

They forget that criticising the government of the day is not akin to making serious efforts to dismember the country – remember ‘tukde-tukde’?

When they try to use specious arguments to curb dissent, our cops and politicians in power forget that, courtesy that wonderful document we all call the Constitution, Bharat Mata is so strong that mere words or slogans won’t break it.

By Fatima Khan, journalist at ThePrint. You can follow her on twitter @khanthefatima.

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  1. Shri Kapil Sibal should urge the Congress party to put this in their Manifesto. In the first 100 days, they should rescind the section. Later, if Parliament considers it necessary, a new law could be passed, taking note of the apex court pronouncements on the subject. 2. If all the good ideas that parties support while in the opposition are put into effect when they are voted to power, that would move us to better governance.

  2. If a person shouts any slogan, no matter how objectionable it sounds, it only shows his thinking, or at worst his intent. It may not lead to a “tangible act”, or even “workable conspiracy” which can harm the society. If it doesn’t, then such a person should be left alone (assuming that he hadn’t been shouting outright obscenities).

    If you start arresting people merely for “thinking”, then how many will you arrest? If a roadside tea vendor, on some freakish impulse starts shouting, “Bharat terey tukde honge, Inshaallah Inshaallah”, then what will you do with him? Apparently there is no proof that these JNU students, Kanhaiya Kumar etc were shouting these slogans — physical photography, lip syncing, voice identification. “Bharat terey tukde honge, Inshaallah Inshaallah” is HEARD in the video, but NOBODY’S lips seem to be saying those words! Could it not be that the audio was superimposed on the video? Is this the way the Delhi police works?!

    Bizarre things have been happening under BJP government at the centre and in states. Once some people showed black flags to Adityanath, and they were arrested, and also denied bail! Three people are arrested in Bulandshehr for cow slaughter, and charged under NIA! These BJP leaders are so sodden with arrogance, as if there’s no tomorrow!

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