A Chilling Abuse of Law

Wire-editorialThe arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, president of the Jawaharlal Nehru Students Union, on charges of sedition marks a dramatic escalation of the undeclared war the Narendra Modi government and the Sangh parivar are waging against the culture of democratic dissent in India. The incident that triggered the arrest was the alleged chanting of “anti-national” slogans by persons unknown at an event on the university campus. Union home minister Rajnath Singh announced on Twitter that he had ordered the Delhi police to “take strong action against the anti-India elements.” Apart from its raid on JNU, the police has also filed sedition charges in a second case stemming from another meeting in Delhi to commemorate the hanging of Afzal Guru where “anti-national slogans” were apparently raised.

Now, whether the home minister likes it or not, there is no law which bans speech that is “anti-national”. The crime of sedition still remains on the statute books. However, as the courts in India have repeatedly ruled, slogans and speech, however distasteful and odious they may be, cannot be considered seditious under Section 124 of the IPC unless they involve the direct and imminent incitement of violence against the government established by law.

In any event, Kumar is not accused of shouting these slogans, nor was he an organizer of the event. If he is to be accused of not doing enough to stop inflammatory utterances from being made, the same charge can quite easily be laid at the door of senior BJP leaders who have done nothing to end the stream of incendiary invective from sundry party and parivar activists. The speech Kumar gave soon after the programme in question was stopped by the university authorities with police help was a purely political one (of high quality, it must be noted), delivered in the classic agitational style of the Left. Not only were there no exhortations to violence in what he said, Kumar openly embraced the ideals of the Constitution of India and the freedom struggle, and accused the Sangh parivar of acting against the nation. If a speech of this calibre is going to be declared criminal, then India is truly entering a dark and terrible phase.

The Union of India and the government established by law are resilient enough to withstand slogans and speeches raised by disgruntled citizens – regardless of whether they advocate the independence of Kashmir or the establishment of a ‘Hindu rashtra’ and regardless of whether they choose to venerate convicted terrorists like Afzal Guru or Nathuram Godse. It is only when individuals move from mere speech to the direct advocacy of violence that they ought to run the risk of legal sanction. In a democracy, it cannot be any other way. The fact that the police crackdown on JNU students has been ordered by Rajnath Singh himself tells us that the intolerance of the present government is slowly reaching higher and higher levels. Not satisfied by vilifying the country’s top writers and artists for protesting the state’s failure to curb acts of violence, the BJP and its student wing have attempted to strong arm critics in one way or the other. The attitude of the Sangh towards media freedom can be seen by the way in which senior ministers of the Modi government regularly refer to journalists as “presstitutes”. Invoking the law of sedition for the act of speaking or organizing or merely being present at an event is a direct attack on the right to free speech and the freedom of assembly. Under no circumstances can this offensive be allowed to succeed.

  • Rohan

    Funny how the author sticks to rules when it suits him. Pre emptive arrests are correct and in this case more so

  • Alpha C.

    The writer’s Hate-BJP, Hate-RSS mindset scattered all over the article. The least a reader expects in an editorial is an unbiased viewpoint, not the editor’s ideological dishes.

  • SRS

    This may be an abuse of the law, but it’s pretty par for the course in India for sedition laws to be applied for all sorts of much more mundane reasons, as was the case for Kovan in TN and Hardik Patel in Gujarat. In this case, the charges are much more serious – eulogizing a man who was charged with abetting the assault of Parliament by terrorists, chanting that they would destroy India, etc.

    The only thing I find chilling is that students at an elite Indian university openly espouse such sentiments.

    It’s also amusing to see the leftist Press get so annoyed at the police action. This is in no small measure because so many of them are from JNU and other leftist bastions themselves and to see their fortresses come under assault feels to them like their Berlin Wall crumbling. Poor babies.

    High time these institutions stop being mollycoddled. Their funding should be sharply curtailed, and several of them left to fend for themselves in a market economy. Perhaps they might see the world differently when their Red-coloured glasses are replaced with the clarity of reality.

    • delta1980

      If the men shouting the anti national slogans were registered JNU students, it would have been very easy to identify them as anyone could recognise them within the university. Perhaps the men who shouted those slogans were outsides whose antecedents cant be tracked easily. Some hard core seperatists perhaps or maybe people with an interest in framing Kanhaiya/JNU by posing as JNU students.

  • Avinash Deshmukh

    Sedition Law should be abolished. Extremist groups like RSS ( who declare republic day as a black day – a real act of sedition) abuse the law to silence Democratic dissent. These low IQ Sanghis have no respect for law and order. They have taken it on themselves to be the judge, jury and executioner. It means that either they don’t want democracy or see India as a failed state.

    Only Indian courts have the authority to decide whether students are right or wrong. These self-styled deshbhakts attack the secular fiber of India every single day. They want blood on their hands. That is what actually satisfies them.

    JNU is just an excuse.

  • delta1980

    The problem with your argument is – why dont we arrest the students who raised those deeply offensive slogans that you have mentioned INSTEAD of Kanhaiya Kumar. Even Delhi Police, who haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory in this episode have now conceded that Kanhaiya did not shout any anti-national slogans. Why cant DP identify and arrest the ten off men who shouted those slogans? Its difficult to believe that DP cant arrest them if they wanted to.

    • ProgressForIndia

      Politicians didn’t control who got arrested. Govt officials filed a complaint with police, and the police then went after whoever they felt was appropriate. It’s upto the judiciary to decide whether Kanhaiya is guilty or not. If he’s not guilty, then there’s every chance the judiciary will acquit him.

      What’s very clear is that Umar Khalid, the organizer of the rally, is pro-separatist. His father is former head of SIMI, the banned terrorist outfit.

      I find it ridiculous that IIT Bombay stated that the govt should promote “multiple ways of imagining one’s relationship with the nation” – what a pack of BS.
      How about we allow “multiple ways of imagining” what salary they should get paid over there? Let’s see how those signatories like the “imagining” the rest of us can come up with for them on that.

      If one of them decides to tell their spouse they want “multiple ways of imagining” the relationship, they’ll be fittingly told to pack their bags.

  • Ashraf Nasim

    doctored speech, read indianexpress
    I agree, such speech can be inflammatory, But Banerjee, these are our kids, they are young, aggressive, naive and innocent. We should not hate them but embrace them. These people will easily fall pray into the hand of Jaish and other sects and will return later with more venom and scrounge. Helping them, rehabing them, teaching them of our ideology, oneness and unity will help them see clearly through the mist. Cracking them, labelling them anti national is another extreme. If this approach continues then we dont need pak terrorist cell , we are quite capable of destrying ourselves.

  • S.Thiyagarajan

    Your editorial is a chilling abuse of freedom of expression and flagrant violation of national sentiments.

  • Raj Antony

    Looks like the author does not like saffron party – its fine – but why are giving way for various elements to destroy the country..in fact such comments will only help Pakistan for its efforts to destabilize the country…you may have a right to protest, but there is a better way to do it, not through playing with student politics…

  • RD

    If slogans say bharat ki barbadi, it sounds enough like an incitement to violence to most of us. If they exhort the continuance of the wars of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Butt, it is an incitement to terrorism. And a call for Kashmir banega Azad is essentially sedition. If these basic premises are not argued with, I would assume the editorial would agree that hounding Umar Khalid and the gang who every one agrees did make those speeches is the right thing to do per the Indian state. The question remains whether Kanhaiya participated or not and if indeed videos show Kanhaiya making such a case (evidently there are 2 such videos – one of 9th and one of 11th), the courts will nail him. Or let him go.

    Or are the editors of Wire suggesting India should let go of those who bat for criminals and terrorists and exhort the destruction of India?