PEOPLE’S UNION FOR DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS (PUDR)
How democracy ‘uses’ a colonial law
PUDR has continually critiqued the existence of the colonial law of sedition and its unconstitutional application at the behest of those who hold state power, in cases that do not stand the test of law. The arrest of SAR Geelani, Professor at the University of Delhi, on charges of sedition on 16th February 2016, is yet again a case of the misuse of law as part of political vendetta. SAR Geelani had been booked under Sections 124A (sedition), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 149 (unlawful assembly) on 12th February, in relation to the raising of ‘anti-national’ slogans at an event organized in the Press Club on 10th February.
There was no complaint- the police registered the case after taking suo moto cognizance of the media clips of the event. Last night on 15th February, Geelani had been called in for interrogation by the Delhi police and subsequently arrested around 3 am in the morning. He was produced in court this afternoon, and has been sent to two day police custody. It needs to be stated that Geelani was falsely implicated in the 2001 Parliament attack case; arrested, tortured, and later acquitted by the Delhi High Court as no evidence was found to support his involvement in the attack. He has been a prominent voice in support of the right to self-determination for people in Kashmir and his fresh arrest under sedition is yet another attack by majoritarian nationalism on dissident voices.
It needs to be recalled that the use of sedition against Muslims in general and Kashmiris in particular is not sporadic but a part of a long chain of events that have unfolded in recent times. In March 2014, the Meerut Police had registered a case of sedition against 67 Kashmiri students of Meerut’s Swami Vivekanand Subharti University (SVSU) under pressure from the BJP party workers for cheering Pakistan’s victory in a cricket match. In November 2014, 10 school going boys in the Kushinagar district of Uttar Pradesh, were charged for sedition, for wearing T-shirts of the Pakistani cricket team during a Muharram procession. In the past, there have been popular demands to prosecute figures like Arundhati Roy and Prashant Bhushan under the section on sedition, for voicing their opinion in support of plebiscite in Kashmir. Geelani’s arrest is the latest in a long running thread of cases that cannot legally sustain the charge of sedition yet empowers police to endlessly detain people as under-trials.
PUDR apprehends that the Delhi police may implicate more people in the sedition case among individuals who were present at the meeting at Press Club. Respected academicians and rights activists like Ali Javed, Nirmalangshu Mukherjee, Tripta Wahi and Vijay Singh, who participated in the meeting have been facing harassment on account of continual summoning and interrogation by the police at odd hours for the last five days. We fear this is part of the witch hunt that began in JNU following the event on 9th February, to deter people from using their freedom of expression in any way that displeases the right wing political establishment.
At this hour it needs to be remembered that, acknowledging that the colonial law of sedition truncates the fundamental right to freedom of expression, the Supreme Court in the Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar verdict (1962), established that the charge of sedition can only be sustained in the instance of incitement to violence in a speech, not for advocacy. In another progressive judgement, the Supreme Court in 1995 in the Balwant Singh vs State of Punjab case set aside the charge of sedition in relation to anti-India slogans raised – ’Khalistan Zindabad…Hindustan Murdabad’. The Verdict opined that mere casual slogans having no effect on public order in terms of provocation to violence, do not constitute sedition. Despite the attempts made by the higher judiciary to restrict the understanding of sedition to an act of incitement to violence, the use of the law in the hands of the state executive narrates a story of the misuse of law, of which the case against Geelani is a putrid kind.
PUDR reiterates that laws like sedition would be subjected to misuse for the very fact that they exist on the statute books. We affirm that the Constituent Assembly deemed the sedition law to be repealed, because it considered it to be an anathema for a Constitutional Republic. Nevertheless, it was retained to protect the nascent democratic state. With its continual use, however, towards constricting democratic rights, PUDR strongly denounce its existence and demands immediate repeal. We also express grave concern at the degenerating political climate of a democracy in which the people are being denied the right to freely exist in public spaces, let alone the right to free expression, and the right to dissent. We caution the Delhi police against unrestrained use of coercive power of the state to the detriment of democratic values. PUDR demands:
- Withdraw cases of sedition against JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar and SAR Geelani
- Stop harassment of individuals for their participation in the Kashmir meeting at Press Club
- Repeal the law of sedition
Secretaries, PUDR (firstname.lastname@example.org)
16th February, 2016