Rights

Uttarakhand: Trade Unionist Charged With Sedition for Criticising Police on WhatsApp

Abhilakh Singh had also called for a change in the colonial-era laws governing the conduct of the police in India, an issue that Union home minister Amit Shah had himself raised in a speech last year.

Meerut: The Uttarakhand police has filed a case under Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code against a pump operator at the GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology who is also a trade union leader in Pantnagar. The police have alleged that 52-year-old Abhilakh Singh had sent a message on WhatsApp which went ‘against the government’ and amounted to sedition.

“He had sent a message on a WhatsApp group. Our social media monitoring cell saw it. It was defamatory, against the government and against the country. So, we have registered a FIR and will now investigate the matter,” Pramod Kumar, superintendent of police (crime) Uddham Singh Nagar told The Wire.

When asked what the investigation will involve, Kumar said, “We will investigate the WhatsApp message and also investigate other activities of the accused.”

The message under ‘investigation’ was sent by Singh on a WhatsApp group with members mostly from Pantnagar and Rudrapur.

“No matter how much trouble the poor and the helpless face, it makes no difference to blind followers. The British formed the police under the Police Act 1860 to rule the Indian public and used it to oppress the Indian people. After the departure of the British –  the white rulers – the Indian capitalists – the Black British –  maintained the same status of police under the same police act. Earlier the police used to oppress the working class for the British. Now it is torturing the working class on direction of the capitalists. The working class can be secured only by dissolving the police administration of the ruling capitalists and ensuring its security on its own,” the message read.

Also read: Despite Courts Saying It Can’t Be, Sedition Law Is Used to Vilify Dissenters

Explaining why he wrote what he did, Singh told The Wire, “Someone had posted a video of the police beating up workers who were walking home after the lockdown was announced. They were bleeding and the police was beating them mercilessly. My heart broke to see those pictures.”

He then responded to those pictures by writing his message which was critical of the Police Act of 1861.

“I have always been critical of the Police Act and the penal codes. The British designed them to rule over us, to subjugate us. Even though we are now independent, those provisions continue as they were during the British rule. These need to be changed so that the police can no longer commit the kind of atrocities that they committed on these workers who were going home,” Singh said.

Echoing the home minister

Interestingly, Singh’s views on police reforms are quite similar to those of Union home minister Amit Shah. “The purpose of the IPC and CrPC has shifted from preservation of the British Empire to the welfare of people, and this has to be reflected in the provisions and application of the code,” Shah had said in October last year while speaking to probationers of a new batch of the Indian police service (IPS).

He had also called for the fear associated with the police to be removed “by bringing a positive behavioural change in the personnel” and had added that “the IPS as an institution must make this change percolate to the grassroots.”

A few days after Shah’s comments, The Hindu quoted a ‘senior government official’ saying pretty much exactly what Singh had said about the Police Act having been designed to oppress the Indian people.

“The idea behind the overhaul is that the master-servant concept envisaged in IPC should change. After it was framed, the IPC has never been amended in totality. Some additions and deletions have been made,” said the official.

Also read: Justice Deepak Gupta: Law of Sedition Needs to be Toned Down if Not Abolished

Singh says he is not very sure why the police have filed the case. “They did not even tell me properly. They called me to the police station, made me sit for many hours, took my phone, made me sign a piece of paper and then told me that I had committed sedition,” he said.

Shyamveer, who has worked with Singh for several years, feels it’s because of Singh’s activism – which he says has always irked the police. “He has been advocating for the rights of contract workers for many years in Pantnagar and the police and the administration have never liked it,” said Shyamveer.

Singh, who is originally from Shahjanhanpur in Uttar Pradesh moved to Pantnagar in 1992. “I used to work as a daily wage earner operating pumps at the GB Pant university. I only got full time employment in 2013,” he said.

He has been advocating for the rights of contractual workers for as long as he can remember. “Having been a contractual worker for 20 years myself, I know how they are exploited. Payment is never made in full or on time. They are made to work extra. Work can be snatched away at any time. So I have been working for their rights,” Singh said.

Singh is also the president of an organisation called the ‘Inqilabi Mazdoor Kendra’. Singh earns Rs 20,000 a month and is the sole earning member in a family of four. His son is a third-year student of Bachelor of Science and his daughter is a second year Bachelor of Arts student.