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We Wish You all a Happy and Safe Holi              March 2020 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:March' 2020


Dissent is not sedition !

Mamtha Sharma from

A petition seeking to quash the FIR against the principal and other
staff of the Shaheen School at Bidar who have been booked under
Sections 124-A (sedition) and 153-A (promoting enmity between
different groups).
In a series of rulings in recent years the Supreme Court has reiterated that a few slogans against the country or prosecessionist chants cannot be defined as sedition. Besides asserting, of course, that sedition charges are invited only in cases of violent, overt attempts to overthrow a government.
The recent protests across the country over the Citizenship Amendment Act have, however, shown how the police and the state governments concerned , have gone by their own interpretation of the sedition law. In the process,all rulings of the apex court on what constitutes sedition have been ignored or understood differently.

While in Karnataka, for example, the case relating to the sedition charges against the principal and a teacher of a school in Bidar stands out, instances of tribals and celebrities facing a similar fate across the country, are not too uncommon.
In recent days, for example, several tribal farmers in mineral-rich Jharkhand faced charges of sedition. Their only fault: they had protested against the acquisition of lands for development. Likewise, late last year ,49 celebrities from across the country faced a similar situation.

According to Sudhir Ojha, a lawyer in Muzaffarpur , the celebrities had tarnished the image of the country, ”undermining the leadership of the Prime Minister while supporting secessionists.” The lawyer had filed a case for sedition against the celebrities in Muzaffarpur following a letter they had written to Narendra Modi expressing concern over the increasing instances of mob lynching. What pained him more was their point that “ the Jai Sriram slogan had become more of a provocative war cry.” The police was prompt in filing a case.

The celebrities and the tribals,however, were lucky in that the sedition cases against them were withdrawn as hastily as they were filed. Fareeda Begum , the principal of Shaheen school in Bidar, and Nazbunnisa, the mother of a student,however, were not as lucky even though they have just managed to get bail but not before spending two weeks in jail. Nazbunnisa, in particular, was arrested on charges of training her 11 year daughter to deliver “an objectionable “dialogue in the school play in the form of communal slurs against the PM.

Siraj Bisaralli (right) and Rajabaxi H V were booked under Section 505
(statements conducing to public mischief).
Incidentally, they were not alone in getting hauled up in connection with a sedition case. Siraj Bisaralli, a poet, and Rajabaxi H V, a journalist in Karnataka’s Koppal district, were also arrested over a poem critical of the CAA and the proposed all-India National Register of Citizens.The poem was recited at an event while Rajabaxi had shared its video on the social media. They were granted bail on February 19 by the court on a personal bond.
This was no different when compared to manner in which Sadaf Jafar, a political activist, was arrested from Lucknow, during an anti CAA protest.”

The police arrested me and imprisoned me for 20 days. We are supposed to be in an elected democracy but our state governments are using colonial era laws to suppress even peaceful dissent of our own people, was his lament."
Yet, if one were to go by the response of a senior official in Bidar , who defended the arrest of the two teachers of Shaheen school,in particular, the police was only going by the apex court’s ruling of 2007 in the Lalitha Kumari case. According to the official , the court clearly mandated the police to file an FIR the minute it received information on any cognizable offence. The argument goes that this could , perhaps, explain the police action against anti CAA protestors across the country, if at all.

Scrap the law

The arrests and charges of sedition, however, do reiterate the fact that the law is a remnant of the colonial era which was introduced to curb protests against the British government,to go by the emerging view. Not surprising,therefore, to see repeated calls for its removal immediately.

Surprisingly, though, the very parties which often demand the removal of the act from the law books, did not bother to move forward on the issue when they were in power.Obviously it suited them to retain the law as it helped them immensely.

Significantly ,though, even a section of the experts well versed in law especially former judges and lawyers, differ over the controversial subject,evidenced by their strong views.

Retired Supreme court judge and former Karnataka Lokayukta, Justice Santosh Hegde, for example, believes that the it is necessary to retain Section 124A on sedition as “without such laws there is a possibility of some undesirable persons making seditious statements with an effort to divide the country. “Even leading to undesirable consequences which may lead to law and order problems apart from affecting the integrity of the nation.

In a write up in a national daily,he argues that one can have a difference of opinion but that should remain within the country. That should not be taken out for denigrating the country. Nationalism is something that is very sacred.

Not surprisingly, he adds that after Independence, different political parties which were in power had accepted that “the sedition law is a reasonable law which has to be in the statute book. Otherwise, t h e y w o u l d h a v e r e m o v e d it.”

In the same vein, he adds t h a t f r e e d o m o f expression is not absolute and is tethered to the reasonable restrictions on them under the law made by Parliament. Let us not dilute every law.Today the acquittal rates are so high that we require stricter laws than we have currently.

H N Nagamohan Das Justice H N Nagamohan Das, retired judge of the Karnataka High court, on his part, argues that the words sedition, criminal contempt of court and criminal defamation, must be removed from the law book.
According to him, the law of sedition is used rampantly for everything. It is used to stub the power of questioning and criticism. Similarly, contempt of court and criminal defamation must be removed from the law books as these are all colonial laws. The Britishers brought these into the law books only to suppress the freedom movement.

Dissenting voices, he said , cannot be labelled “anti national “or “anti democratic” as such assertions were an attack on the people‘s commitment to protecting constitutional values. “The blanket labelling of dissent as anti national or anti democratic strikes at the heart of our commitment to protection of constitutional values and promotion of a deliberative democracy.”

D Y Chandrachud In the present context,however, where protests against the CAA have led to major controversies and arrests leading to charges of sedition, the recent talk by Justice D Y Chandrachud of the apex court in Ahmedabad, becomes significant.
Dissenting voices, he said, cannot be labelled “anti national “or “anti democratic” as such assertions were an attack on the people‘s commitment to protecting constitutional values. “The blanket labelling of dissent as anti national or anti democratic strikes at the heart of our commitment to protection of constitutional values and promotion of a deliberative democracy.”