New Delhi: A single-judge bench of the Karnataka high court said that it does not behove schools to teach children to criticise government policies or insult constitutional functionaries for taking particular policy decisions.
The single-judge bench of Justice Hemant Chandangoudar passed an order on June 14 quashing the sedition proceedings against four persons who are part of the management of Shaheen School in Bidar, where a play was performed by students against the Citizenship Amendment Act in 2020. The complete order was made available only recently, LiveLaw reported.
Sedition and other provisions like promoting enmity under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) were invoked against the accused in January 2020 by police in Bidar based on a complaint against the play. In the order, the judge explains why the sections invoked do not apply.
“The play/drama was enacted within the school premises. There are no words uttered by the children inciting people to resort to violence or to create public disorder … and it was made known to the public at large only when the other accused uploaded the play on his Facebook account,” Justice Chandangoudar said.
“Hence, at no stretch of [the] imagination it can be said that the petitioners herein enacted the play with an intention to incite people to resort to violence against the government or with an intention of creating public disorder,” the order says, adding that as a result, the provisions of sedition and inciting public disorder did not apply.
Incitement to violence is a necessary component of sedition according to an influential Supreme Court interpretation of the crime. The apex court also put the sedition law in abeyance in 2022, barring governments from registering new cases and investigating old ones while the colonial era law is under review.
The court held that for punishment of offences under Section 153A [promoting enmity] of the IPC, there must be an “intention to promote enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language and etc.” or doing acts prejudicial for maintenance of harmony.
“In the instant case, there is no allegation that the accused herein either promoted enmity or hatred towards another religious community. In the absence of essential ingredients so as to constitute an offence punishable under Section 153A of IPC, the registration of FIR is arbitrary,” the order says.
On the allegation that “abusive words” were used against the prime minister, such as that he should be hit with footwear, the judge said that this is “not only derogatory, but is irresponsible”. “The constructive criticism of the government policy is permissible, but the constitutional functionaries cannot be insulted for having taken a policy decision, for which, certain section of the people may have objection,” the court said.
Justice Chandangoudar also made several observations about the kind of education that should be imparted to children in his opinion. He said:
“Dramatization of the topics which are appealing and creative in developing a child’s interest in academics is preferable, and hovering over current political issues imprints or corrupts young minds. They should be fed with knowledge, technology, etc, which benefits them in their upcoming curriculum of academic period.”
“Therefore the schools have to channelize the river of knowledge towards children for their welfare and betterment of society and not indulge in teaching the children to criticize the policies of the government, and also insult the constitutional functionaries for having taken particular policy decision which is not within the framework of imparting education.”
The case began when a video of the play went viral on social media, following which a local activist and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) member named Nilesh Rakshala filed a complaint with the police.
Police in Bidar’s New Town station filed an FIR based on Rakshala’s complaint, claiming that the school performed “anti-national activities” and “[spread] negative opinion” about parliamentary laws.
Nazbunnissa, the mother of a student who participated in the play, and Fareeda Begum, the primary section’s principal, were arrested by the police on January 30. Their remand report accuses them and the school of “making minor children state that Prime Minister Narendra Modi must be hit with a chappal [slippers]”.
The two women were granted bail about two weeks later.