Thursday, April 14, 2016

How We the People of India must respond to the recent #JNU incidents

- Seema Sapra 

The Narendra Modi led Government has used the Delhi Police to slap the very serious charge of sedition against JNU students who allegedly shouted objectionable slogans in a peaceful gathering and did nothing else. 

The law on sedition is being routinely abused in recent years to silence dissent, protest and political challenge. 

The elements of the crime of sedition under section 124A of the Indian Penal Code as clarified by the Supreme Court of India in Kedar Nath Singh versus State of Bihar (1962) require not only “written or spoken words, etc., which have implicit in them the idea of subverting Government by violent means, which are compendiously included in the term 'revolution'”; but also an element of mens rea comprising of a “pernicious tendency or intention” to achieve such subversion of Government; and a further requirement that the “words, written or spoken, etc.” must have the “pernicious tendency or intention of creating public disorder or disturbance of law and order” “by resort to violence”. 

Now mere slogan-shouting in favour of Afzal Guru or for his vindication, or in favour of Azad Kashmir, or even slogans hoping for India’s destruction or its fragmentation, or slogans in favour of Pakistan by a group of students by itself would not constitute the crime of sedition. 

It does not appear that the students had any real intent to overthrow or subvert the Indian Government which is an element of the crime of sedition. Nor did their slogan shouting really incite violence or have the tendency to incite violence or to achieve the overthrow of the Indian Government. 

As Pratap Bhanu Mehta points out in http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/jnu-sedition-case-kanhaiya-kumar-arrest-afzal-guru-event/ it is not a crime to be anti-national and that no entity or person or administration can claim to exclusively define what is anti-national and what isn’t. 

Nor is it anti-national to continue to question as to whether Afzal Guru was really a terrorist or if he was framed in a false flag attack on the Indian Parliament despite the confirmation of his conviction by the Supreme Court. There is an international law recognized human right to self-determination of all peoples and it is not anti-national to argue in favour of the right of the Kashmiri people to self-determination. One could even assert that the fundamental right to freedom of speech and conscience guaranteed under the Indian Constitution protects the right of a citizen to denounce India or to hope for its destruction or fragmentation as long as this is not accompanied by any real intent to overthrow the Government or to incite or commit violence as part of such intent. 

The slogan shouting at JNU could have been dealt with by the University administration. Students disaffected with Indian State policies should be positively engaged in a political dialogue and not imprisoned for sedition. 

The response of the police administration and the attempt to stifle dissent raises the specter of a police state. The Commissioner of Police was wrong in issuing statements like “If any person gets any whimsical ideas, I request them not to resort to any such form of insolence as the punishment under this section ranges from three years to life imprisonment". Excuse me, but aren’t whimsical ideas and insolence towards perceived abuse of State or police power constitutionally protected? Or is the Delhi Police now going to tell Indian citizens what they can or cannot think? 

The BJP Government and the Delhi Police it controls attempted to create an atmosphere of fear by arresting the JNU student union president and by unnecessary and disproportional police action and presence on the JNU campus. The Delhi Police went further and used a tweet from a known fake/ parody twitter handle of Pakistani terrorist Hafiz Saeed to instil fear among the youth on twitter by suggesting that anyone supporting the JNU students under siege would be viewed as supporting terrorist activities. This was nothing but a deliberate spread of disinformation by the Delhi Police to stifle protests in support of the JNU students and to create a chilling effect on voices against the State’s unwarranted response to the slogan-shouting at JNU. The Delhi Police is now claiming that the authenticity of this tweet was irrelevant. Really and why? Is the Delhi Police saying that it and the Indian intelligence authorities were unaware of this twitter handle before the JNU protests? 

Mr Rajnath Singh the Indian Home Minister went further and issued a press statement claiming that the JNU incident was supported by Pakistani terrorist Hafiz Saeed. After the fake tweet was exposed as fake, the BJP Government is now trying to cover-up and claim that the Home Minister’s statement was based upon input from several sources.  

The conduct of the Delhi Police and the BJP Government is shameful in that they would knowingly and without evidence tarnish genuine students and an academic institution as linked to terrorism and destroy lives and the institution’s reputation.

The above makes one wonder if the Delhi Police or the RSS are seeking revenge on the JNU students who recorded and exposed the widely condemned recent incident of police goondaism and police violence against JNU students peacefully demonstrating outside the RSS headquarters? 

The Afzal Guru controversy and the questioning as to whether Afzal Guru was framed in a false flag attack has had several credible public figures involved who remain unconvinced as to the Police version of the Parliament attack. The Delhi Police role in this controversy is suspect. The Parliament attack false flag if that is what it was, took place under the previous BJP led NDA Government and therefore both the BJP and the Delhi Police have an interest in silencing those who question the official narrative of the Parliament attack. 

As Pratap Bhanu Mehta points out this Government “does not want to just crush dissent; it wants to crush thinking”. We the People of India must not be crushed into submission. We must continue to think independently and to question official narratives when there is evidence to do so. We must zealously guard and protect our fundamental rights including the right to freedom of speech, expression, thought and conscience. And we must continue to expose, challenge and protest against abuse of State and Police power to crush dissent or thinking. 

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