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Editorial :: A Tight Leash On Free Speech

A Tight Leash On Free Speech

The saying ‘once bitten twice shy’ does not seem to apply to the Sangh Parivar offshoots. Last year, Jawaharlal Nehru University saw a volcanic eruption after the RSS-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) made a hue and cry against Kanhaiya Kumar, then president of JNU Students’ Union, and others over their alleged sloganeering favouring Kashmiri separatists. A year has gone by. The police have not filed even charge-sheet against them; it is reported that no sedition case has been made out against Mr. Kumar. In this year’s elections to JNUSU, the ABVP had to bite the dust, unable to win a single seat of office-bearers.   

Learning no lesson from JNU, the ABVP activists in Delhi University’s Ramjas College came out violently against an invitation extended to Umar Khalid, a JNU scholar who faces a case for last year’s incidents, for a seminar in the college. The issue is one’s freedom of speech which has been violated by the saffron brigade. The Supreme Court in Kedar Nath Singh case in 1962 unambiguously stated that an act of provoking ‘imminent violence’ through words, written or spoken, is sine qua non   for making a sedition charge. The apex court has time and again upheld this view while dealing with similar cases.  

However, we see that the Centre and States had been violating the apex court verdict with the easiness of changing one’s clothes. Sedition charges were slapped against Amnesty International India for organizing a debate on Kashmir; Kannda-actor-turned politician Ramya for her ‘Pakistan is not hell remark’; Booker Prize winning author Aundhati Roy for a speech on ‘Azadi’; Tamil folk-singer Kovan for his anti-Jayalalitha song; rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen for his purported links with Naxalites; one can list several other cases of misuse of ‘sedition law’ in the recent past. S uccessive governments have blatantly used Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code to stifle the voice of dissent and to further their political goals.

This makes us to go back in history to take a close look at the issue. In the fifties and early sixties, calls were made for separate country in South India by Dravidian movements, but it was not considered sedition or subversion of the Constitution. It is equally important to recall the case of Balwant Singh and his accomplice who raised anti-India slogans in Chandigarh on October 31 1984, the day Indira Gandhi was assassinated. The slogans included Khalistan zindabad and Raj Karega Khalsa. The court verdict in this case is revealing: “It does not appear to us that the police should have attached much significant to the causal slogans raised… The casual raising of slogans, once or twice by two individuals alone, cannot said to be aimed at exciting or attempt to excite hatred or disaffection towards the govt.”    

But the Sangh Parivar offshoots off and on try to substitute rule of law with ‘brute nationalism’. The incidents at Hyderabad University and Jodhpur University are just two other instances from across campuses exposing pseudo-nationalists. The social media attack on Gurmehar Kaur, a Delhi University student and daughter of an army martyr, for speaking against ABVP and seeking peace rather than war, further unmasks the saffron brigade. This ‘my way or highway’ attitude is anti-thesis of democracy.

#(Published on 06th March 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 10)