Bal Gangadhar Tilak declared “Swaraj is my birthright”. He was charged with sedition. He was an anti-national according to the rulers of the day.
I have consistently pleaded for the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. I hold the view that the Act allowed Army and police officers to act with impunity. In the eyes of the current rulers I would be an anti-national.
You may be anti-national
Many of you could be regarded as anti-national and I shall tell you why.
Have you been critical of the unpreparedness of the Indian defence forces that were comprehensively defeated in the India-China war of 1962? Have you questioned the wisdom of Operation Parakram where 798 soldiers died in a peace-time mobilisation on the border? Have you demanded the withdrawal of troops from the Siachen glacier? Do you oppose the ban on selling or eating beef which is the official State policy in many states?
Do you oppose the imposition of Hindi, the official language, on non-Hindi speaking states?
Just be warned, you could be charged with sedition because under the law, as interpreted by the Delhi Police, you must not show or sow ‘disaffection’ (i.e. disloyalty) towards the government; you must not bring the government into hatred (however oppressive its policies or laws may be); and you must not bring the government into contempt (however foolish its behaviour may be). Simply put, you cannot rail against the government or laugh at the government because it is ‘established by law’.
Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code reads: “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…”
There are three Explanations to that section, but the Delhi Police, because it has limited literacy skills, will not read beyond the main part of the section.
Trampling on rights
Mr Kanhaiya Kumar did not show ‘affection’ to the government. He was present when certain slogans — slogans, not swords or guns — were raised by some students who were bitterly opposed to the death by hanging of Afzal Guru.
That was enough to charge Mr Kanhaiya Kumar with sedition. That is what the Commissioner of Police, Delhi, believed the law required him to do.
The wise men and women who made the Constitution of India did not think so. They gave us freedom of speech and expression. They placed some restrictions, but flatly refused to add ‘sedition’ as one of the grounds.
In 1951, Jawaharlal Nehru told Parliament, “That particular section (Section 124A of the IPC) is highly objectionable and obnoxious and it should have no place both for practical and historical reasons in any body of laws that we might pass.”
For ordinary mortals the last refuge is the Supreme Court of India (and I am not alluding to what Samuel Johnson said). The Court has grappled with the law of sedition in many cases. In KEDAR NATH SINGH, the Court said “Comments, however strongly worded, expressing disapprobation of the measures of government without exciting those feelings which generate the inclination to cause public disorder by acts of violence, would not be penal.”
Finally, in S RANGARAJAN, the Court laid down an illuminating test, the test of a ‘spark in a powder keg’. The Court said “The expression of thought should be intrinsically dangerous to the public interest. In other words, the expression should be inseparably locked up with the action contemplated like the equivalent of a ‘spark in a powder keg’.”
The government and the Delhi Police know that the charge of sedition against Mr Kanhaiya Kumar and others will be thrown out by the courts. That is why so-called lawyers were called in to deliver ‘justice’ in the precincts of the Patiala courts. And they delivered justice in the only way they know — by beating up
Mr Kanhaiya Kumar and the journalists who dared to be present in court.
Right to be wrong
Grave issues are at stake. What is the place of a University in the democratic republic that we have given unto ourselves? As a student, can I regard my age as an age where I have the right to be wrong? Can I regard my University as a place where being ridiculous is as important as being profound?
In public spaces, you have the right to question the death penalty and demand its abolition. You have the right to question the death sentence awarded to Afzal Guru or Yakub Memon. Rohith Vemula did just that and he was driven to commit suicide. Mr Kanhaiya Kumar was present when some students did just that and
Mr Kumar is now lodged in the same jail where Afzal Guru had been kept.
The government established by law is turning the universities into powder kegs. The organisations affiliated to the ruling party (the ABVP in particular) are placing sparks in the universities. Before a fire engulfs the entire country, we must raise our voices against the lawlessness of the law enforcers and the so-called lawyers.
There is no obligation to show affection towards any government and certainly not towards a government that will unleash the law of sedition against its young citizens.