In 2016, after the arrest of JNU students' union president Kanhaiya Kumar along with other leaders including Anirban Bhattacharya and Umar Khalid, I wrote an article on the need for sedition law in India. The student leaders were arrested because they allegedly raised anti-national slogans inside the JNU campus and were booked under sedition law. This is very similar to the way the Delhi Police have booked 21-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi, under the same sedition law. I had written that between 2006 and 2016, not a single person was found guilty of sedition by the Supreme Court. However, under the BJP regime, we are increasingly witnessing the sedition law being slapped on people who raise questions against the government and its decisions.
The voices of dissent: Disha Ravi (L) and Kanhaiya Kumar (R). (Photo: Facebook and PTI)
From the very first day of the current BJP government, a sentiment of nationalism was promoted among people, leading to the question of who is a nationalist and who is not. The term “anti-national” has become standard after the JNU incident of March 2016. Under the Modi-Shah regime, India has witnessed increased paranoia against dissent.
There is also a tendency of pushing various conspiracy theories by the BJP government and administration. In recent times, it has been said that Disha Ravi and others, allegedly along with some pro-Khalistan groups, made a 'toolkit' to amplify the farmers’ protest and then shared it with internationally-acclaimed climate activist Greta Thunberg. We have been told that it was part of an alleged international conspiracy to divide India. Earlier, we have seen a similar script being propagated against the activists in the Delhi riots. In the Bhima Koregoan case, we were told that a group of activists allegedly plotted a conspiracy to kill the Prime Minister of India. The list is long and unending. The situation is so bad that even the ministers in the government have claimed that the protesting farmers are hand-in-glove with Khalistanis.
Under the BJP regime, anyone asking questions to the government is considered anti-national and is accused of sedition. But what is sedition? Under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, sedition is defined as, “whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”
It is important to note here that asking questions of the government or organising or amplifying protests is not sedition. But every government has used this law to suppress dissent at some point or the other. However, what is clear is that the government is paranoid about dissent. That is why these targeted attacks against activists, lawyers, climate activists and anyone questioning the government. It is very unfortunate that people who help in organising protests in India are being called “Andolan Jeevi” by none other than the very Prime Minister, and in the Parliament.
It is high time the BJP understood that India has a long tradition of protests and that protest is a fundamental right of the citizens as per the Constitution. It is true that the BJP has won with a massive majority and has the numbers to pass any law in the Parliament. However, people will continue to have the right to protest, even if there is no political opposition in India.
If we are proud of our democracy, we should accept the right to voice our dissent with the same pride. The paranoia of the ruling government and administration against every dissent is not justified. The people have voted for the BJP to look at the important internal and external issues of the country, and not to silence the voices of dissent by ordering police action against them. The government should be more empathetic towards protesters and refrain from such collaborated attack against dissent.