SEDITION SCARES

ARRESTED: Tamil Nadu cartoonist G Bala (inset) was arrested for his cartoon (above)mocking the chief minister and the district collector for offering money to a family which had burned itself to escape harassment from money lenders

The BJP run governments, including the Central government, are misusing and abusing the Sedition act. Beginning with the charges of indulging in anti-national activity against Kanhaiya Kumar of JNU, in the last 30 days itself, cases have been filed against the actor Kamal Hassan for his caution against Hindutva fanatics, against a cartoonist in Tamil Nadu for mocking public officials, and against a professor protesting the interlinking of rivers

By GO Staff

AFTER criminal defamation, sedition is fast emerging as an instrument of intimidation.

In May 2016, the Supreme Court (Justices Dipak Misra and Pant) refused to de-criminalize defamation in a judgment full of linguistic excesses and judicial faults.

So, now the powerful can use criminal defamation to oppress whom they do not like.

Mahatma Gandhi, India’s most famous freedom fighter, was jailed for six years on sedition charges because of the articles he wrote for a weekly journal, ‘Young India’, that challenged the British government

The judgment belied the promise to discipline its use. Justice Misra and Lalit got an excellent opportunity to lay down guidelines in respect of an increasing use of sedition. But they did not rise to the challenge.

Dissent

LAST year advocate Prashant Bhushan filed a case for the NGO ‘Common Cause’, and Dr. SP Udayakumar, an anti-nuclear activist who has been charged with sedition.

Bhushan’s written submission said: “Successive governments have blatantly used Section 124A (sedition) to stifle the voice of dissent and to further their political goals”.

As proof he pointed to the figures of 2014, displaying 47 sedition cases and 58 arrests in 2014; and referred to cases against cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, folk singer S. Kovan for singing songs against CM Jayalalitha, JNU Student Union President Kanhaiya Kumar, and J&K separatist Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

To these, we may add Amnesty India, Mehdi Biswas for holding a pro-ISIS twitter, K. Kavitha, daughter to a CM, for saying Kashmir and Hyderabad were annexed, C. Mahato to condole the death of activists in Bengal and Hardik Patel for leading a rally that went out of hand.

Member of Parliament Ramya also had a case filed against her because she said Pakistan was not hell”.

This was deemed as an “insult to India”, provoking Indians and “appreciating Pakistan”.

She has refused to apologize.

Pakistan is a terrorist state, but many Pakistanis are wonderful people. Go there and find out. Their hospitality overwhelms.

If this is not enough, the 2015 figures on sedition cases are 30. More than 70% cases are from Bihar and Jharkhand, followed by 7 other states.

The 22 cases filed in 2015 are at trial stage. The court, with scant attention to realities and history said: “(W)e are of the considered opinion that the authorities dealing with offences under section 124A… shall be guided by the principles laid down in Kedar’s (case of 1962)”.

What Bhushan had asked for was that sedition cases should not be commence without a “reasoned” order from a DGP or Commission Police and due examination whether the sedition act had a tendency to incite violence or public disorder. A modest request.

In the past, the Supreme Court has issued directions on arrest, as in the case of D.K. Basu and other cases to deal with ground realities.

Perhaps that the court may consider directions of search and seizures.

The the law of sedition should be abolished if it is without safeguards.

At present, the only safeguard is eventual sanction for trial (not investigation) by the very government which prosecutes.

If the “process is the punishment”, then investigation and trial are to be examined together.

MISUSE!

JUST last week Professor T Jayaraman, the chief coordinator of the Anti-Methane Project Movement, has been booked for sedition for writing a 48-page booklet, Nadhigal Inaippu Thittam: Aarugalai Pidungi Virkkum India (Interlinking of Rivers Project: India Snatches And Sells Rivers).

The sedition case was filed by the Mayiladuthurai police station in Tamil Nadu under Section 153B (1) of the Indian Penal Code.

The activist wrote the booklet during his 42-day detention at the Tiruchirapalli central prison following his arrest along with eight others in July for participating in protests against the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation’s (ONGC’s) oil extraction being carried out at Kathiramangalam.

Prior to this, he had spent seven days in jail for protesting against a gas leak from an ONGC pipe polluting local ground water.

“So far they have filed 12 cases against me,” Professor Jayaraman told this correspondent.

The professor said he was on the government’s radar for protesting against ONGC which he charged with polluting the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu, the Cauvery delta.

“Their problem is that they are shocked when they meet someone they cannot intimidate, they can threaten to kill me or jail me, but I am not going to budge.”

Discussing the booklet that has invited the charge of sedition, he said, “I am against this interlinking of rivers because it is being done with 37 canals. These canals are being built by big companies, they are making huge investments in it. They are not in the business for charity. They will want returns for their investment.”

“Take our national highways. They are built by private companies who then charge us a toll for using the highway. Similarly, once the water enters the canals they have built, they will charge us for the water which we are now getting free,” he argued.

“My book’s title is Snatching Rivers And Selling Water. This has obviously got the government’s goat. The book is only 48 pages long, yet it has shaken up the government so much that they are booking me for sedition,” Professor Jayaraman, who taught history at the AVC College in Mayiladuthurai before retiring five years ago, said.

“Is this a democracy? What kind of democracy is this where I cannot share my views with my people?”

“I am not scared,” he asserted. “I will continue to protest against the rivers’ interlinking.”

The Tamil book saw a print run of only 100 copies. Yet, someone somewhere took note of it, and alerted the powers-that-be about it.

So quick was the government reaction that within days of the book’s publication on October 22 the sedition charge was slapped against Jayaraman.

“I am fighting for my country’s land and I am fighting for my people. I am fighting for my country, not against it. If they call it sedition, it doesn’t become sedition.”

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