A pan-India citizen’s collective, coordinating peaceful protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), has criticised the Mysuru police for booking sedition cases against a protester holding a ‘Free Kashmir’ banner and the organizer of the protest.
The Jayalakshmipura police in Mysuru had registered multiple FIRs against those protesting against CAA-NRC in the Mysore University campus on January 8 after a few videos showed a ‘Free Kashmir’ placard. Along with the organiser of the protest, an alumna of the university who held the placard were also booked among others.
'Hum Bharat Ke Log', a collective, has issued a statement calling the police action to be in contravention of multiple High Court and apex court judgements. They also argued that sedition laws are being used to harass and intimidate media personnel, human rights activists, political activists, artists, students and public intellectuals. “We demand that the law of sedition be repealed to bring this aspect of Indian laws in tune with most modern democratic frameworks,” stated Hum Bharat Ke Log.
Their statement reads, “The law of sedition is a tainted one with a terrible history of being used to target political dissent in the country. It is a throwback to the days of British rule, when Tilak and Gandhi were charged with sedition for speaking out against the British Rule.”
They pointed the Supreme Court judgment in the Kedarnath Singh case, where the court upheld the sedition law but curtailed its meaning and limited its application to acts involving intention or tendency to create disorder, or disturbance of law and order, or incitement to violence.
The statement further said that this position was further strengthened in the Supreme Court’s Balwant Singh case. The court held that two individuals had raised the slogan “Khalistan Zindabad” outside a cinema hall just after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi could not be said to be showing disaffection towards the government.
Further, they quoted the Bombay High Court judgement in the Aseem Trivedi case, where the court observed that in order to prosecute under section 124A (sedition), the government has to obtain a legal opinion in writing from the law office of the district and in the next two weeks, a legal opinion in writing from the public prosecutor of the state.
Mythreyi Krishnan, a Bengaluru-based advocate and a member of the collective, said, “The FIR filed in this case goes completely against the law laid down in these cases. The slogan ‘Free Kashmir’ cannot by itself be said to incite people against the government established by law. It is the democratic right of every citizen in this country to express their opinion on Kashmir. In fact, the Supreme Court has just a few days ago come down heavily on the government’s use of section 144 of the CrPC to prevent public gatherings in Kashmir and its continued internet shutdown in Kashmir, holding that such executive decisions must be justified through a legally valid process and that there has to be administrative checks and balances on such power.”
She added, “There is no justification for a draconian law of this nature, created to squash peaceful and non-violent dissent, to operate in a country, which claims to be the world’s largest democracy. A colonial legacy like the sedition law, which presumes popular affection for the state as a natural condition and expects citizens not to show any enmity, contempt, hatred or hostility towards the government established by law, does not have a place in a modern democratic state like India. The case for repealing the law of sedition in India is rooted in its impact on the ability of citizens to freely express themselves as well as to constructively criticize or express dissent against their government.”
Hum Bharath Ke Log, further, mentioned that even if cases are dropped, there is a chilling effect on dissenters. The collective said that “punishment” of those accused of sedition begins with the legal process, which is long and expensive. Even if they are ultimately freed, the process itself serves as a punishment and deterrent for those who express dissent.