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“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.”
Leonardo da Vinci

New Delhi:

On 18th March 1922, pleading guilty before a trial court, Gandhi who was slapped with Sedition charges said: ” what in law is a deliberate crime, appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen.”  Gandhi was charged with sedition under section 124-A for writing three politically sensitive articles. The charges against him were “bringing or attempting to excite disaffection towards British India.”

98 years later, a lot many things changed. India received its much-fought-for Independence, Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu terrorist, India got its constitution, but Sedition stayed.  According to reports, in two years between 2014 and 2016, a total of 112 cases were booked under 124-A. And in the last five years, 233 people have been charged with sedition.

The law states:

“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 shall be punished with to which fine may be added, or with impris­onment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine”

The cases that are slapped with sedition seem all the more trivial these days-  from “criticizing some yoga guru” to “cartoons in national dailies”, “9-year old’s school play” to “comments on social media,” and “not standing up during national anthem in movie theatres” to “cheering Pakistan cricket team” – everything amounted to inciting anti-Indian sentiments.

Sedition has also been one of the strongest tools employed by the Modi government to tackle people’s rage against CAA-NRC. In the last two weeks, close to 6 cases of sedition have been charged concerning CAA-NRC protests. This happens at a time when police had stayed silent, paving way for Hindu terrorists to brandish pistol at those peacefully protesting in the streets.

The School Play which Sent a Mother to Prison

On January 26, the Shaheen High School was slapped with sedition, based on a complaint given by an ABVP worker who claimed that the play staged by the school students on January 21, insulted PM Modi.

The already small area of the school was filled with policemen. In 6 days, close to 60 minor students of the age 9 to 12 years were questioned multiple times by the Bidar police station. None of the protocols was followed.

According to the police, one of the kids commented that Modi shall be beaten with a chappal. However, media reports suggest that it was a generic dialogue where the kid says that anyone who demands documents to prove one’s citizenship should be beaten with chappals.

The school has maintained its stance that the play was aimed at sensitizing the kids, regarding the concerns of the Muslim population on CAA, NRC, and NPR. However, Nazbunnisa, 26, a widow and mother of an 11-year-old girl and Fareeda Beegum, the headmistress of Shaheen School were arrested on January 30 by Bidar New Town Police Station.

A 9-year-old’s line in a school play has now sent two women to jail. It also had pushed many kids of this age to a state of frenzy, as they are being continually questioned. The school has also told media that they are being targeted as most of its students are  Muslims. The incident represents BJP’s world view. It represents how fear can be used tactfully to suppress dissenting voices.

Sharjeel Imam and Five Charges of Sedition

As many as five states across the country charged JNU student Sharjeel Imam with sedition charges over his controversial speech delivered at Aligarh Muslim University. A particular statement from his speech was taken off to frame Sharjeel, an anti-national.

“Assam aur India Katke alag ho jaaye, tabhi ye humari baat sunenge (Only once India and Assam are cut off from each other will they listen to us),” he can be heard as saying in the video.

Accused Of Sedition, JNU Student Arrested In Bihar

Charged with sedition and facing police cases in five states, he was finally arrested from Bihar on Tuesday. This is the controversial speech that landed JNU student Sharjeel Imam in trouble. ? ?

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The history scholar from JNU was then arrested from Bihar. He had been one of the chief organizers of Shaheenbagh protests and had been targeted ever since. The state police of UP had filed a case against him initially over the communal nature of his speech, which was then taken up by four more states- Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Delhi.

Sharjeel had suggested that if at least five lakh Muslims mobilize and organize a “chakka jam” or road blockade, they could cut off Assam and the North East from the rest of India India.

3-minutes of a 40-minutes speech was all that took for Adityanath’s police to frame a scholar as seditious. His speech was clearly immature, but the call for the road blockade was neither surprising nor can be counted outrageous given the present situation of the country we live in.

“Sharjeel tere sapno ko hum manzil tak pahunchayenge”

Sedition charges were slapped against 51 protestors who raised pro-Sharjeel Imam slogans during the queer pride rally in Mumbai. Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kirit Somaiya had filed a case against those who chanted the slogans.

The charges slapped on the 51 individuals included Sections 124A (sedition), 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration), 505 (public mischief) and 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code, Deputy Commissioner of Police Pranay Ashok told PTI.

With this, it became clear that Sedition charges were =employed against anti-CAA demonstrations.

Azamgarh Protests and Infamous UP Police

The next case to be added to the list was the one slapped on the Azamgarh protestors. Police had named 35 people in an FIR, which included a woman identified as Munni Bano who was released “as she is a heart patient”. All the 19 people who were arrested were sent to prison.

The protestors had said that police resorted to violence- stone pelting, baton charges and tear gas firing to disperse the anti-CAA protest. “All through this, police used communal slurs and all kinds of abuses,” one of the protestors alleged.

Meanwhile, the police who went with the sedition case said, “They were saying they will snatch Azadi and will get Azadi anyhow.” 

Reign of Terror

The latest story coming from UP, suggests a disturbing trend. On 11th February police had unleashed unparalleled violence on the anti-CAA demonstrations at Kanpur. They also threatened people that they would charge them with sedition. The Uttar Pradesh police had been using tear gas shells, batons and bullets and had so far killed 23 Muslim men who were part of the protests.

Close to 1200 people had been arrested so far in the state.  Custodial torture had been reported by kids who were part of protests as well.

Uttar Pradesh CM Adityanath also had threatened anti-CAA protestors on a public stage.

“If anyone raises slogans of Azadi in the name of protest, it will amount to sedition and the government will take strict action. It can’t be accepted. People can’t be allowed to conspire against India from Indian soil,” he said at Kanpur.  He also said that he would teach protesters a lesson that generations won’t forget.

Criminalising Dissent

There can’t be a democracy if there is no space for dissent. With sedition cases, it can be seen that the number of cases is huge, but the conviction rate is quite less.  Thus sedition becomes a mere tool in the hands of a powerful, inhumane state to spread terror and fear among the protesting masses.

After the Modi government came into power in 2014, the number of sedition cases have been doubled. The peculiarity of sedition is that arrests can be made without any warrant, and investigation can be done without magistrate’s approval. This wields immense power in the hands of police.

In an earlier judgement, the Supreme Court had made clear that criticism cannot be counted as sedition. In 1995, in the Balwant Singh v State of Punjab case, the Supreme Court had acquitted those who were slapped with sedition for raising pro-Khalistan slogans on the account that mere sloganeering which evoked no public response did not amount to sedition.

However, it can be seen that the recent cases of sedition had been against those who were protesting against the incumbent governmental policies. While there are no cases filed against ministers and politicians, who had incited violence, like Anurag Thakur who had raised slogans like ‘shoot the protestors’, thousands who are on the streets defending their right to live are being targeted.

It can be said undoubtedly that sedition has taken a dangerous turn in the country. And it represents a deep terror, unleashed by a heartless state.

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