Updated: February 7, 2020 11:50:09 am
How recklessly progressive of the judicial system to venture into the derivatives market for sedition, and to take the dramatic step in the context of an LGBTQ rally. The market is the most appropriate frame of reference for the denial of anticipatory bail to a 22-year-old student of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) charged with sedition. She was one of the 51 protesters against whom an FIR was lodged by the Mumbai police for participating in a rally. Her case drew attention because of a single slogan which, according to her counsel, she raised only once, in which she referred to Sharjeel Imam, a former JNU student, against whom several states have filed sedition cases for speaking against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. This is definitely the first known derivative of sedition, surpassing the charge of sedition by association that people like Binayak Sen have been accused of.
Perhaps the policemen who filed the FIR were not cognisant of developments in sedition law, but lower judiciary cannot be ignorant of the substantial case law which has developed thanks to the government’s propensity for using sedition as a handy solution for containing people who disagree with it. Most recently, in 2016, a Supreme Court bench had recalled a judgement from 1962 dismissing a sedition matter, to observe that only action taken towards a “violent revolution” could attract the charge. A slogan raised only once about a person accused of sedition fails to tick the requisite box. Sloganeering is an organic activity, widening the ambit of the central message by absorbing current political references, and the student’s counsel had argued that Imam’s name had been voiced in the heat of the moment, along with routine points of reference like B R Ambedkar and Rohith Vemula.
However, the sessions court in Mumbai held that the charges were serious enough to merit custodial interrogation, and has denied anticipatory bail. It has paid scant regard to the case law which has developed on sedition and effectively, the lower court is in contempt of the Supreme Court. The law of sedition is deeply problematic anyway, since it is a device introduced by a colonial power to keep a subject population in check, and does not belong in a democratic nation which is owned by the people. Cases like this one, where the law is applied completely arbitrarily, reaffirms the general conviction that the law should be repealed.
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