In 1870, the British colonial government of India introduced section 124(A), or the sedition law, into the Indian Penal code. It was aimed at prosecuting those whose ‘words or actions’ showed ‘disaffection’ towards the government. This law was used to suppress Indian freedom struggle movement and prosecute those demanding self-determination, including Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
This colonial law continues till date, and in recent years, those arrested on sedition charges include the cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, some students cheering for Pakistan in a cricket match, Hardik Patel- a Gujarati caste-group leader, and a youth from Kerala- Anwar Sadhik, for a Facebook Post. Most of those charged had not been violent in conduct, nor had they incited violence, a legal pre-requisite for a sedition charge. Moreover clapping for Pakistan’s Afridi does not threaten India’s security.
In recent times, incidents of misuse of the sedition law have prompted lawyers, activists and constitutional experts to push for this out-dated clause to be removed from the penal code.
What has been going on at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is no different and has again brought to light questions of application of this sedition law. The administration was unable to determine which students were responsible for the sloganeering and Delhi Police arrested Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union President Kanhaiya Kumar.
Fali Nariman, a constitutional jurist and Supreme Court advocate wrote in the The Indian Express, “Sedition in India is not unconstitutional; it remains an offence only if the words, spoken or written, are accompanied by disorder and violence and/ or incitement to disorder and violence.” Mr. Kumar did not raise any such issues which fall under the constitutional understanding of the sedition provision due to which he may be declared as ‘Anti-National, Enemy of Bharat Mata’. It is not fair that in a democratic country like ours, sedition charges have been slapped on a democratically elected student union president without proper investigation and hard evidence. It is important to mention that speeches of the President and Vice-President were highly impressive, touching & comprehensive.
An ordinary Indian fails to understand why a democratically elected government is so hesitant to reply the questions raised by democratically elected intellectuals of a globally acclaimed Indian university. As a citizen, Kanhaiya is not only entitled to, but also duty bound to ask questions and seek answers from the government, and the government is liable to reply them, as we live in a democratic country.
India’s 156-year-old, colonial-era sedition law–used against arrested Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union President Kanhaiya Kumar–has been discarded in the UK (where punishment once included chopping ears), Scotland, South Korea and Indonesia. The authenticity of the videos, which have been considered as the basis for sedition charges against JNU students is questionable, as has already been reported by few television channels.
Yes, a university is the space to debate even the hanging of Afzal Guru! We live in a democratic country and there must be discussion on every topic amongst intellectuals. Threatening our democracy is the most anti-national of all acts.
It is necessary to know who raised anti-national slogans. Associating, involving in, and supporting anti-national activities is also a crime. But using nationalism to crush constitutional patriotism, legal tyranny to crush dissent, political power to settle petty scores, and administrative power to destroy institutions is an alarming situation for ‘Bharat Mata’.
The crackdown was an act designed to revel in ignorance of the law of sedition. Indeed, it was insidious in its remarkable ability to make ignorance the flaming torchbearer of nationalism. The so-called ‘Nationalists’ do not want to just crush dissent; they want to crush free-thinking, as its repeated assaults on universities demonstrate.
It is hard to see how the government will be able to illicit the support of much of the country with it, if it constantly uses such vendetta. It will not be a surprise if another parliament session is the casualty of such overreaction. The main thing government should focus on, is to bring about a real sense of Nationalism towards India, in the hearts and minds of citizens by promoting a culture of healthy discussion and debate, especially amongst the students of different universities, on every burning issue in our nation.
It seems that we have now arrived in a dark hollow, an abyss of obscurantism and fascism, mixed in a lethal dose- a dose good enough to put a billion plus people to sleep. The fight is on, and we stand in solidarity with the epic struggle, JNU.
AMUSE is Aligarh Muslim University’s independent student newsletter.