Updated: October 29, 2021 9:14:51 am
A cricket match was fought and lost. Team India brushed off the disappointment and the defeat — as well as the inflammable mix of emotions that can overwhelm India-Pakistan cricket matches. Virat Kohli and his men walked up to the Pakistan players and congratulated them. In doing so, they refused to be turned into gladiators fighting a proxy battle of jingoism. To millions of young people watching them, they sent out important messages. That players are united on the common ground of sport, that when you have lost and are feeling lousy about it, you still congratulate the winner. That’s not just sporstmanship, that’s decency. But that’s thrown out of the window in these polarised times when the IPC is weaponised by the state at the drop of a dissenting line. So, days after Union Home Minister Amit Shah said he was reaching out to the young, the Jammu and Kashmir Police registered a case under the draconian anti-terror law, UAPA, against unknown students in two Srinagar medical colleges for “cheering for Pakistan” in the T20 match. There’s no evidence that their cheering was part of any incitement to violence. In Congress-ruled Rajasthan, the police arrested a schoolteacher for a social media post, again, ostensibly in support of the Pakistan cricket team. In Agra, the UP police arrested three Kashmiri students in Agra, and slapped cases against four other people. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has come down even harder on this fictional crime — he has promised sedition charges.
In each of these cases, the police is guilty of blatant violation of Constitutional norms and guarantees. This disturbing, absurd script has played out before. Be it in a case of sedition against a school in Karnataka for staging a play, or a 22-year-old for raising slogans, or another young woman for climate change activism. What would the men in uniform, who now appear to be in service of a thin-skinned nationalism rather than the Constitution, have made of the thriller of a Test match in Chennai in 1999, when the entire Chepauk stadium stood up to applaud the Pakistan side after it defeated India? How many cases could they have filed then? Does the faith of the audience matter? Is Pakistan the problem? Or, will applauding New Zealand be seditious too? This absurdity needs to be checked.
The judiciary has time and again laid down guidelines for the application of the colonial-era sedition law (only to see them routinely flouted) and asked the government to examine its remit. It must not turn a blind eye to this latest round of excessive and unlawful action. It needs to throw out these cases and tell the police, in no uncertain terms, why their action violates the Constitution. Locking up a citizen for cheering a rival nation during a game is a self-goal in a democracy.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on October 29, 2021 under the title ‘Ovation & sedition’.
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