How ABVP used sedition to silence Amnesty India

The present safeguards are too weak and the Sangh is using these provisions for defamatory harassment.

 |  5-minute read |   22-08-2016
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When Macaulay's Code of 1837 was enacted in 1860, sedition was added as Section 124A to the penal code in 1870.

It became an instrument to silence the "freedom" movement. In the Constituent Assembly in 1947, lawyer-politician KM Munshi suggested that including "sedition" was notorious and the word must be removed as a restriction on free speech. It should be replaced as it "undermines the security of or tends to overthrow the state".

Of this, after the Chinese invasion, only the phrase "security of state" was retained and, in 1963, "sovereignty and integrity of India" was added to the Constitution Amendment of 1951.

The Constitution, therefore, rejected "sedition" as an infringement of free speech - an omission of importance in the light of justice Dipak Mishra's recent decision in 2016 refusing to decriminalise defamation. The "sedition" provisions were tested for validity in the Kedar Nath case (1962).

Validity

Refusing to accept the Privy Council's view of making the offence "catch all", the Supreme Court upheld its validity "construing (its) provisions… to limit their application to acts involving intention or (a pernicious) tendency to create disorder or disturbance of law and order or incitement to violence".

The colonial law of sedition was gone and a new authoritative interpretation replaced it.

Also read - Amnesty International India on facing sedition charges

Yet, sedition continues to be used by the police to threaten citizens - cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, activist Binayak Sen, author Arunadhati Roy, JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar and a host of others including SAD leader Simranjit Singh Mann, the Owaisi brothers and VHP's Praveen Togadia.

In March 2014, it was even extended to the police slapping sedition charges on 67 Kashmiri students of a private Meerut university for cheering Pakistan's victory over India in the Asia Cup.

The Amnesty incident

The FIR against Amnesty India was filed by BJP youth group Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).

Amnesty India had published a publicly available report in July 2015 called "Denied": Failures in accountability for human rights by security force personnel in Jammu and Kashmir. It was earmarked for discussion in Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi in August 2016.

This was about the Bangalore meeting on August 13, 2016. The Bangalore incident will affect further discussions on the report.

The programme included three videos of families invited for the occasion, a theatre enactment of the extra-judicial execution of 21-year-old Altaf Ahmad Shah based on his father's testimony, and a discussion moderated by Seema Mustafa, including RK Matoo.

Also read - Kashmiri hip-hop artist MC Kash on how Bangalore Police threatened him with jail

The event all but ended with a performance by the rapper, Roushan Illahi, better known as MC Kash.

mc-kash_082216090921.jpg
Bangalore Police confront MC Kash at Amnesty event.

Sounds like a good programme: partaking of the discourse on Kashmir and the effect it has on "broken families" on which Amnesty India had earlier published well-documented reports.

The FIR was clearly politically motivated as it was filed by the ABVP, a student organisation affiliated to the RSS.

They were gunning for Amnesty and led a 700-person protest outside Raj Bhawan. ABVP's national general secretary Vinay Bidre was emphatic: "We want Amnesty International banned".

It was a set-up by the ABVP since they were waiting outside the meeting hall asking for the arrest of those who raised azaadi slogans.

Not anti-national

Amnesty refuted the charges in a point-by-point rebuttal, stating it was wrong to say:

(i) Sindhuja Iyengar, Seema Mustafa and Roushan Illahi sang anti-national songs or (ii) delivered anti-national speeches against soldiers in Kashmir.

(iii) No slogans were raised that India's Kashmir should be part of Pakistan.

(iv) There was no support from terrorists or (v) from Pakistan or its PSI (vi) No Amnesty employees assaulted anyone.

(vii) Criticism of governments' policy which the Supreme Court's decision in Kedar Nath (1962) was permissible - however strong.

Also read - Is Congress siding with Sanghis in harassing Amnesty India?

For law and order reasons, Amnesty India shut down its offices since the incident. This was clearly an exercise in social and political intimation by the ABVP.

Strangely, former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde justified the charges against Amnesty.

He has some affinity to the BJP because when he wanted to resign as Karnataka's Lokayukta, it was LK Advani's (rather than then PM Manmohan Singh's) advice that he relied on.

For him, Amnesty was an "abettor" by creating a platform for "these people" for "raising pro-independence slogans".

Reaction

This, according to him, was sedition and Amnesty was complicit even if its employees were quiescent. Amnesty was biased and did not say anything about anti-terrorism in this country, he argued.

Never has a former Supreme Court Justice been so incredibly wrong on fact and law.

Justice Hegde had clearly not understood the law of sedition, criminal complicity, vicarious liability in crime, which would not even stand up in tort (civil) cases, the facts or Amnesty's views on terrorism. For him, Amnesty was "seeking some popularity and running away when it backfires".

With such blatant misunderstanding, he should not have joined the controversy.

Also read - Sedition and other laws which must go

In "Crime in India" (2014), it is reported that in that year there were a total of 512 offences against the state, and 872 persons arrested.

Out of these, there were 176 offences registered: with 47 offences and 58 arrests for sedition, under sections 121 to 124 IPC.

The present safeguards against planted sedition cases are too weak to prevent cognisance by courts without sanction. This is no good.

The state must review such proceedings, taking direct responsibility for such cases which are a threat to free speech and democracy. The Sangh Parivar is using these provisions for defamatory harassment.

We will lose Kashmir if we are not careful. The answer does not lie in Balochistan, but in persuading Kashmiris to live peacefully in India.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Writer

Rajeev Dhavan Rajeev Dhavan

Supreme Court lawyer.

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