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Sedition??? My Foot!!!

Sedition???  My Foot!!!

The prayer of the petitioner must have sounded like this-

“Your honour - you must listen to me immediately:

There are these people you know, filmwallahs , writerwallahs, jholawallahs, even some historywallahs and all kinds of people you know, they have written a letter in English language (which is a foreign language) to our wonderful Prime Minister. You know Sir, it is not a love letter but they are asking questions in the letter, making serious allegations to spoil the name of ‘Bharatmata’ and they have gone and published it everywhere! Serious questions and they expect a reply from the Prime Minister too! They don’t even know that he is so very busy going on ‘phoren’ tours, and of course spending our hard earned money on nothing! That he really has no time to read any letters very specially those letters written in English

The questions these ‘wallahwallahs’ ask in the letter Sir are about a phoren word called “lynching”; most Indians have never heard of this word. Besides the other day, when our Guruji was celebrating the burning of Ravan and the puja of weapons, he told us that both ‘the word and the deed’ came from the Bible; that Jesus Christ was the originator of it since he took sides with a woman. You know, how it is in our culture Sir; you are not expected to take sides with a woman we men are always the boss! But according to our Guruji Jesus also allowed the men to stone the woman! It was there that all this began!   So we don’t do lynching here Sir!

These people who call themselves celebrities or whatever (yes Sir, they go for too many parties and they don’t support our one party rule) are so fixed with this ‘phoren’ word that they think they can ask questions about ‘why this and why that’? Who gives them the right may I know? The right to ask questions belonged only to the Gandhi and Nehru time, but no longer now.

The problem Sir if they start asking questions to the Prime Minister, then many more people may actually  start ‘thinking’ in our country and also asking questions and one day ‘our   kind’   we will no longer be in power! They will question about “acchhe din”, about the tampering of the EVMs , about how only certain of our friends are becoming richer, about the corruption and the scams that are going on, of how anyone in opposition is bought up or jailed…Many, many..

So what you must do Sir, is to immediately charge them with ‘sedition’’ Ha, that too is an English word – but then it was brought into our system about one hundred and fifty years ago by our friends the British. This was a law that was brought it to deal with likes of Lokmanya Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi and others who were wanting independence ( yesterday they called them ‘freedom fighters’ today the modern ones are known as ‘human rights defenders’) It is in our DNA to support the idea of ‘sedition’ . All our big guys will support in this! You will get a promotion; you will be elevated: besides your kith and kin will receive a huge financial bounty which our bosses made during demonetization. So charge these forty-nine immediately Sir: put them in jail for life or well, send them to Pakistan for good! We need to put our foot down on anyone who talks truth and demands justice in India today! So act fast Sir!”

The above may sound satirical and in fact, even frivolous: but sadly, it is certainly very dangerous! It is another bell tolling for the destruction and death of democracy in India!

The ‘Sedition’ law is in itself not merely archaic but highly draconian. It is found in Section 124A  of the Indian Penal Code lays down the punishment for sedition. The Indian Penal Code was enacted in 1860, under the British Raj. Section 124A forms part of Chapter VI of the Code which deals with offences against the state. Chapter VI comprises sections from 121 to 130, wherein section 121A and 124A were introduced in 1870. The then British government in India feared that Muslim preachers on the Indian subcontinent would wage a war against the government. Throughout the Raj, this section was used to suppress activists in favour of national independence, including Lokmanya Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi, both of whom were found guilty and imprisoned. The section kept drawing criticism in the independent India as well for being a hindrance to the right to free speech.

The word ‘sedition’ however has given rise to several interpretations and even explanations. In general, it states that “whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine”.

The ‘explanations’ include

(i) the expression “disaffection” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.

(ii)comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.

(iii) comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section

What the so-called ‘merits and demerits’ of the   Sedition Law itself the order passed   on 4 October by the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Muzaffarpur Bihar   is a blatant case of judicial over reach or downright sycophancy. The order to file an FIR against forty-nine eminent personalities of the country was based on a 23 July ‘Open Letter’ they had written to the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi. The petition accused the signatories of having "tarnished the image of the country and undermined the impressive performance of the prime minister", besides "supporting secessionist tendencies".

The   ‘Open Letter’ in nature and content was a cry of pain and anguish of what is happening in the country today by forty nine celebrities from all walks of life, including filmmakers Shyam Benegal and Aparna Sen ,vocalist Shubha Mudgal ,historian Ramchandra Guha, social activist Binayak Sen and sociologist Ashis Nandy .The letter said that the lynching of Muslims, Dalits and other minorities must be stopped immediately; “The lynching of Muslims, Dalits and other minorities must be stopped immediately. We were shocked to learn from the NCRB that there have been no less than 840 instances of atrocities against Dalits in the year 2016, and a definite decline in the percentage of convictions,” while also stressing that “there is no democracy without dissent. People should not be branded anti-national or urban Naxal and incarcerated because of dissent against the government.” They continued, “ We, as peace loving and proud Indians, are deeply concerned about a number of tragic events that have been happening in recent times in our beloved country,” They also regretted that “Jai Shri Ram” has been reduced to a “ provocative war cry”; Ram is sacred for the majority community, stop defiling the name of Ram,”.  They also alleged the prime minister’s inaction on the issue. “You have criticised such lynchings in Parliament Mr. Prime Minister, but that is not enough! What action has actually been taken against the perpetrators?”

There was a spontaneous national outrage against the CJMs order, from all concerned with what is happening in India .Thousands signed a solidarity petitions in support of the celebrities.  Editorials and op-eds were written demanding the immediate abolition of the ‘sedition law’. Fortunately, about a week after its filing, the Bihar police decided to close the sedition case against the celebrities. The police termed the case "maliciously false" and recommended action against petitioner. " The SSP recommended closure of the case and action against the complainant for filing a false case without any rhyme or reason,”.

Whilst a case is being filed against the petitioner (he is planning to appeal against the police decision) what is more important is that the CJM of Muzaffarpur, needs to be hauled up and even debarred from the arena of the judicial services. The ‘Times of India’ in a timely editorial (11 Oct. 2019) entitled ‘Abusive Law’ says “Scrap Sedition. Its distinction from   free speech is lost not just on cops but also on magistrates” The editorial goes on to say, “there is little cause for relief over one case being closed as more will keep popping up in some state or the other”. There are enough instances of cases in the past of how the ‘sedition law’ is systematically and selectively used to target individuals and groups who take a stand for truth and justice.

Freedom of speech and expression guaranteed in Article 19 of our Constitution is sacred and fundamental to our way of proceeding as a democracy. The ‘sedition law’ is both archaic and draconian and is still being used by the "powers" to quell dissent and even to muzzle citizens when they ask questions! When the rulers (particularly totalitarian regimes) are weak, insecure, corrupt, unjust and afraid of the truth, they conveniently take resort to something like ‘sedition’.

The law and order machinery needs to awake and also be hauled up for even entertaining such a petition on sedition. If this Government has any shame, if they are committed to the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution, the least they can do is to abrogate this anti-democratic law immediately! Until then we the people of India must stand up visibly and vocally and say to all who are desperate at destroying India: “Sedition????My foot!!!

*(Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights and peace activist/writer. Contact:cedricprakash@gmail.com)

(Published on 14th October 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 42)