Anandita Ghosh and Saranga Ugalmugle
People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and other progressive organizations held an open meeting on the repression of educational institutions and journalists and the misuse of sedition law, on the 23rd of February in Pune. To register their protest against the events in JNU and Patiala court house recently, they issued a public statement and appeal. [The entire statement is at the end of this article.] The open meeting included speeches by Dr. Nitish Navsagaray (law professor), Mr. Dileep Padgaonkar (senior journalist), Mr. Suhas Palshikar (Political theoretician), Dr. Manisha Gupte (Feminist Activist) and Dr. Ramesh Awasthi (President, PUCL Maharashtra). Each speaker explored different aspects of nationalism and the need of the hour.
Dileep Padgaonkar, distinguished journalist, brought out the realities of the media. He said that one has to realise and understand that there is pressure on the media- political, ideologicai as well as commercial. Given the background and especially the way things are today, objective reporting is difficult to come by, but even more difficult to find is fair comment. In a scenario where TV anchors ‘bash’ guests and there are shows called ‘The Big Fight’, there is little room for nuanced analysis or discussion. There has been a polarization of opinions and ideologies; people don’t like going into nuances.
Padgaonkar observed that during the elections of 2014, the condition of the media changed- there was ideological polarisation, commercial pressures increased, and this government and prime minister have a unique communication strategy. Their communication strategy is one way, in one direction. He said, “Manmohan Singh’s government seldom spoke, this government seldom listens.”
The PM tweets to wish people on birthdays, but there is silence when a man gets lynched on suspicion of consuming beef; that is a communication strategy. So at an official level there is no communication, and on social media, there are reactions.
Referring to the manner in which JNU videos were doctored and publicised, Padgaokar said that the Indian media is a planter’s paradise- investigative journalism is not up to the mark, and therefore, it is extremely easy to plant material. The media no longer reflects reality but also guides and shapes reality. When twitter has a comment linking JNU to LeT, despite coming from a fake account, the damage is already done. “That night the nation wanted to know and the nation decided that the tweet was right!” said Padgaokar.
Commenting on the present government, Padgaokar said, “It was obvious to me right from May 2014, the current government will be double faced. One face will speak about the modernization of the economy and the modernisation of the armed forces. And whatever, needs to be done to modernise the economy and modernise the armed forces will be done and will be done by and large correctly.” He went on to add, “The second face is ensure that in education and culture there is no progression but regression, and the agenda for education, the agenda for culture was straightforward, no ambiguity. We have a certain line that must be imposed. That line is- I define what culture it; I define what Indian culture is; I define what nationalism is; but most of all, I define what anti-nationalism is.” The right wing in India feels threatened by pluralism. Any criticism is attributed to a big conspiracy.
However, he says there is hope- the staggering incompetence of the right, the lack of strong intellectuals and creative minds. He ended by saying that the only way to rise to the vicious challenge of the present was to become ‘Constitutionalist Patriots’- where patriotism stems from the constitution, where patriotism means to believe in pluralism, diversity, and non-violent means to achieve ends. He said he loves his nation but when cornered and forced to choose, he would stand by the people of the nation rather than the state; he would be with the citizens of the country rather than the institutions of the country.
Dr.Nitish Navsagaray, a Dalit rights activist and a lecturer at a Law College, presented a strong case for the need of repealing the law on sedition from the Indian Penal Code. Sec 124 A of the IPC defines law of sedition which states that anyone who brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government by words spoken or written or by signs or by visible representation or otherwise is guilty of the offence of sedition. The definition does not leave out of its purview any possible mode of self expression, simply by using the words “or otherwise”. The punishment for the offence of sedition is life imprisonment but lesser punishment can also be awarded. Sedition was not a part of the original Indian Penal Code (IPC) enacted in 1860 and was introduced in 1870.
Navsagaray referred to the two cases of sedition filed by the British government, one against Bal Gangadhar Tilak and one against Mahatma Gandhi. Taking some historical cases into account to show how this law of sedition has been used as a political tool by the Governments in power to curb voices of dissent, he mentioned another landmark case, in which the scope and nature of sedition as defined in the IPC was explained – Sadashiv Narain Bhalerao’s case (King Emperor v. Sadashiv Narain
Bhalerao in1947. The privy council herein held “but even if he (accused) neither excited nor intended to excite any rebellion or outbreak or forcible resistance to the authority of the Government still if he tried to excite feelings of enmity to the Government that is sufficient to make him guilty under the section”.
Before 1962, as per the law in the Penal Code no incitement to violence or insurection was necessary in the speech to be termed as sedition as long as it excited “dissatisfaction” towards the government. In 1962, in the case of Kedarnath V. State of Bihar, the court, however, adopted the view of the Federal Court of India that the gist of the offence of sedition is “incitement to violence” or the “tendency or the intention to create public disorder”. So, as per the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, a person can be charged with sedition only if there is incitement to violence in his speech or writing or an intention to create disorder.
This being the historical stand on sedition by the judiciary, one must not forget that Tilak, a freedom fighter, and Gandhi, one of the founding fathers of our nation, had long back taken a stand against the law of sedition. Pandit Nehru himself called sedition an obnoxious piece of legislation and mentioned the need of removing it from our statute books. In spite of the same, we continue to have the archaic law of sedition, a relic of the colonial rulers. This law has been used to gain political points and to subdue any sort of dissent against the government. Being a modern democracy, India cannot continue to criminalize dissent, and thus Navsagaray stated the urgent need to repeal the law on sedition from the statute books!
Suhas Palishkar, another eminent journalist and professor of political science, spoke about interference of the state in educational institutions. The JNU incident, he said, highlights the issue of autonomy of educational institutions and state interference in the same. “We have stopped looking at universities as a space which fosters intellectual growth and curiosity but have instead made them into governmental departments.” said Palshikar. He raised concern over how educational institutions have been reduced to industries which manufacture graduates and technicians to meet some statistical demands!
Palshikar, while speaking of nationalism, questioned what amounts to nationalism. Is nationalism love for the state imposed on the people at gunpoint or under pressure of arbitrary state law? Should it be out of love for the people, society and their concerns? Is nationalism ownership over a piece of land or the quest to work for the voiceless people of the society? JNU,HCU, etc. are not isolated events; they raise pertinent questions about where this nation is headed? What is our idea of India?
It is time to contemplate over the relationship between democracy, which asks questions, and nationalism, which insists on love for the nation.
A feminist activist and member of PUCL, Manisha Gupte spoke of the alarming similarities between Germany during the rise and reign of Hitler and present day India and the need to stand up to the present situation. While Hitler and Goebel harped on the past glory of Germany, the vision of an undivided Germany, and who was a true German, the present government, much along the same lines, talks of a glorious past, an undivided India, and defines who is a nationalist and who is not. And the manner in which cultural nationalism is being shaped, is dangerous. The BJP is openly violent and discriminatory. One only has to look at the interviews of the lawyers who brag about beating Kanhaiya; there are those who talk of petrol bombs and even hanging, and these are the people who are labelled nationalists. On the other hand, people who debate whether capital punishment should be abolished or not become anti-nationals.
Much like Germany’s SS and SA troupes, we have groups like the RSS and Bajrang Dal. These groups work to establish fear on the roads, in everyday life; and then there are the lone wolf attacks-Kalburgi, Dabholkar. They attacked individuals whose houses and minds were open for all.
In Germany, the gas chambers were set up by doctors, very educated individuals. Even in the setting up of the RSS, there were many doctors and highly educated people. She said, “Highly educated and progressive are not the same. Along with modernization, modernity of mind is required.” The nation is headed towards a scary path. When Vajpai was in power, we were critical of him. Then came
Advani, and Vajpai seemed moderate…then came Modi and everyone before him seemed moderate. The fear is tomorrow we will have someone who will make even Modi seem moderate.
She ended saying, “We and there are thousands like us who will not allow such a day to come; so if we have to go, let’s go out with the first lot and not wait to be the last person standing.”
Dr. Ramesh Awasthi, the president of PUCL Maharashtra, commented on the nature of present day nationalism. He pointed out that present day nationalism was a modern form of tribal territorialism. Akin to tribes that define boundaries and kill invaders on sight, nationalism is being shaped not only along physical boundaries but also ideological and cultural boundaries.
He cited the example of a 13 year old Bangladeshi girl who was shot and hanged on the barbed wire at the Bangladesh border of our country by the armed forces as she had mistakenly come over to India, similar to tribes that set such examples to warn others. The idea of protection seeps down to the state level and further to communities and localities.
There is rising jingoism on various grounds; one example being linguistic jingoism. There is bound to be unrest if such uniformity is forced on people. India is plural, and the manner in which nationalism is conceptualised has to be inclusive, plural, and sensitive to diversities. If diversities are not taken care of and there is majority jingoism, will the marginalised feel at home? Speaking from experience, he gave an example- when Dalits are routinely violated and abused, would they feel pride or love towards their village? It is the Maratha’s who feel love for the village or are concerned about its ‘honour’. When you don’t take care of all the people, can you expect the wronged to feel the same sort of love and affection towards the institution?
Any sort of Jingoism breaks the county. The limited conceptualisation of nationalism is damaging the social fabric of the nation. He emphasized that it is crucial that even as we stand up to the present, we also think of the ongoing and future process of healing.
It was heartening to see the number of young people who attended this open meeting. The speakers put forth diverse perspectives and encouraged thinking. And as Dr. Awasthi pointed out, the process of healing will be a long drawn process. But, however murky the present may seem, as the speakers said, there is hope; and hopeful we must stay as we fight on!
PRESS STATEMENT ON BEHALF OF the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and progressive organisations and individuals in Pune
‘Stop attacks on autonomy of educational institutions for political interests !’
‘We condemn the assaults on journalists, teachers and students in Delhi !’
The events in Delhi from the 9th and 16th of February, specifically those in the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University and Patiala House Court are extremely disturbing and dangerous.
The ruling party and its patronised student wing ABVP actively establishing their hegemony in educational institutions and universities; the viciously well planned strategy of only highlighting the irresponsible slogans given by a fringe group at a programme organised around the death anniversary of Afzal Guru; the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, the President of the JNUSU who had nothing to do with these slogans and who condemned these slogans immediately; the extremely serious charge of ‘sedition’ placed upon Kanhaiya Kumar; the attack upon journalists, JNU professors and students within the court premises by some BJP lawyers and goons in the name of ‘patriotism’, on 15th and 17th February; the blatant disregard of the Supreme Court’s direction and the shameful physical assault on Kanhaiya Kumar: all these are reprehensible and condemnable. The inaction and callousness of the police by remaining bystanders even as antisocial elements took the law into their hands is angering and an onslaught on democracy, and therefore particularly worrying and worthy of contempt.
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and National Alliance of People’s Movements
(NAPM) along with like-minded organisations and individuals gathered in Pune city on the 17th of February to analyse these disturbing events and to organise peaceful resistance to the same. This is their appeal to all responsible and peace-loving citizens of our country.
An act that was brought into force by the British to crush the independence struggle is being used by the Indian government to unleash terror inside the JNU campus. It is illegal to arrest student leader Kanhaiya Kumar and charge him with sedition and inciting violence. Prima facie none of these offences have been committed by Kanhaiya Kumar.
According to numerous witnesses and media reporters who portrayed the situation accurately, Kanhaiya Kumar criticised the policies of the BJP government. On the earlier day, anti India slogans had been made in another event, but no evidence has been gathered by the police about whether they were made by JNU students or not. Neither have the police submitted any evidence to the court implicating Kanhiaya Kumar’s association with those slogans. In fact the police have now reported to the court that they will not oppose Kanhaiya
Kumar’s bail application. The sudden turnabout of the police related to someone charged with a serious offence such as sedition in itself casts suspicion on their intervention. Simultaneously, it is noteworthy that three office bearers of the JNU branch of the ABVP have submitted their resignations, condemning the action of the central government.
We condemn the fact that the Vice Chancellor of JNU did not take a firm stand against the totalitarian action of the central government. However, the unstinted and proactive support by the professors of JNU to their students is praiseworthy, also because they have set a model example not only for their own university but for society in general. Even the JNU students have set a sterling record of responsible citizenship by maintaining exemplary solidarity and restraint in spite of the adverse situation they have been forced into. We welcome the constructive resistance that the faculty and students are offering to the administrative and police repression by holding open air classrooms on the topic of ‘nationalism’.
1. We condemn the arrest of the President of the JNUSU Kanhaiya Kumar on baseless charges, and demand that he and other students similarly arrested be released forthwith.
2. The university should take immediate steps to stop the arrests of students; no one should be arrested without firm proof and merely on suspicion. We demand the instant and unconditional withdrawal of the police force from the JNU campus.
3. We condemn the irrational and war-mongering statements made by the Home Minister Rajnath Singh and the Minister of Human Resources Smriti Irani against the democratic space provided by the JNU teachers, professors and students for debate and dissent. We demand that strict action be taken against BJP MLA O.P Sharma, his supporters, Vikram Chauhan and other lawyers who participated in the assault and violent activities in the court premises of Patiala House.
4. We demand strict action against the police and Delhi Police Chief Bhim Sain Bassi who allowed Kanhiaya Kumar to be assaulted by lawyers in the court while he was in police custody.
5. We stand unitedly and firmly in solidarity with the students and professors of JNU as well as with students all over India, who have bravely resisted the attack of the BJP government on educational institutions. Similar incidents have occurred in the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII Pune) and the Central University in Hyderabad. This has precipitated an adverse and highly volatile situation. We demand that all terrorising and arm-twisting tactics used for political gain be stopped immediately so that students can concentrate on their education.
We believe that the only way to resolve such conflicts is by meaningful and heartfelt dialogue. Extreme, arbitrary police action, and substitution of a fair and just legal trial with public threats of shooting people to create terror cannot result in any positive alternatives. Students are enduring the adverse impact of divisiveness existing in our society today.
We condemn all political and fundamentalist groups who are intent on destroying democracy in India and who use violence and terror instead of democratic methods in order to increase their political base. Citizens may wonder whether it was appropriate to observe the death anniversary of Afzal Guru who was given the death penalty by the Supreme Court, but this topic needs open discussion and debate. It would be pertinent to read the judgement
carefully and observe how the impact of popular expectation from the courts overshadowed the actual evidence found against him. We need to become aware of how the politicisation of the Kashmir issue by vested interests has distorted an already complex problem. We need to encourage and welcome public dialogue and open discussion on such sensitive issues.
We All – For Democracy !
Dr. Ramesh Awasthi, Anvar Rajan, Milind Chavan, Dr. Manisha Gupte (People’s Union for Civil Liberties – PUCL), Maharashtra
Suniti S.R, Milind Champanerkar, Dr. Suhas Kolhekar, Dr. Vishwambhar Chowdhary, Prasad Bagwe (National
Alliance of People’s Movements – NAPM)
Mukta Manohar (Pune Municipal Workers’ Union)
Bhalchandra Kerkar (Shramik)
Prof Subhash Ware (Aam Aadmi Party)
Nirmala Sathe (Alochana)
Dr. Sanjeevani Kulkarni (Prayas, Palakniti)
Nilima Sahasrabuddhe (Palakniti)
Hrishikesh, Mangal (Lokayat)
Dr. Hemlata Pisal (MASUM)
Prathamesh Patil (Sumbaran)
Dr. Sunita (FMES, IJME)
Jayshree Awade (PIPFPD)
Sandesh Kulkarni (Samarpan Sewa Sanstha, Raigad)
Sunil Tambe, Ganesh Vispute, Dr. Parimal Maya Sudhakar, Dr. Shivani Parimal, Shriranjan Awate, Bharat Kamble, Sanjay Mense, Jaydeep Karnik, Dhanashree, Dr. Dhananjay Pathak, Kalyani Jha, Ankita A.A, Raahi S.G.
Dr. Anant Phadke (Shramik Mukti Dal – Lokshahiwadi)
Contact: Suniti S.R., National Alliance of People’s Movements, Address: 6. Raghav, Shri Raghuraj Sahanivas,
Sinhagad Road, Pune 411030. Ph: 9423571784. Email: [email protected]