New Delhi: Five years later, Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and others who had faced sedition charges for a 2016 event on the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus will be facing trial and have been summoned by a Delhi court. The Delhi Police received sanction to prosecute from the Delhi government last year.
The police chargesheet has claimed that Kumar and others led the procession in which “seditious” slogans were chanted. Other accused include Anirban Bhattacharya, Aquib Hussain, Mujeeb Hussain Gattoo, Muneeb Hussain Gattoo, Umar Gul, Rayees Rasool, Basharat Ali and Khalid Bashir Bhatt.
Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (Patiala House Courts) Pankaj Sharma has asked the accused to appear on March 15, according to the Indian Express.
The chargesheet includes charges under the following IPC sections: 124A (sedition), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 465 (forgery), 471 (using as genuine a forged document or electronic record), 143, 149 (being a member of an unlawful assembly), 147 (rioting) and 120B (criminal conspiracy).
The case has been delayed because the request for sanction to prosecute was pending before the Delhi government for a long time. Reports in September 2019, had said the Delhi government would not be granting the police sanction to prosecute the youth leaders. However, in February 2020, the Aam Aadmi Party government appeared to have changed its mind and sanction was granted.
Kanhaiya Kumar has since gone on to become a political leader of some prominence and had contested the 2019 Lok Sabha election from Begusarai, on a CPI ticket. Khalid is currently in jail in a Delhi riots-related case, and several rights organisations have called for his release.
The police’s case has been questioned several times, especially after it became clear that some of the videos being cited as evidence, which were also widely broadcast on certain TV channels to instigate anger against the then JNU students, were doctored.
The sedition charge in the case is also questionable on its own.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that sedition is constituted by written or spoken words which “have the effect of bringing contempt or dissatisfaction or the idea of subverting government by violent means”. In Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar, the apex court said that if comments, however strongly worded, do not have the tendency to incite violence, cannot be treated as sedition.
The court also ruled in Balwant Singh v State of Punjab that raising pro-Khalistan slogans cannot amount to sedition as it evoked no response from the other members of the community.
The Twenty First Law Commission, in a working paper, also noted that criticising the government does not amount to sedition and that “people have a right to express dissent and criticise the government”. It said a higher threshold should be set to prosecute people for sedition law. “Sedition as an act of trying to destabilise the government should only be invoked in cases where there is a real threat or actual use of violent means to overthrow the democratically elected government,” the report said.