Increasing oppression of peaceful public protests in our democracy

:: M Y Siddiqui ::

Latest instances of a 14-year old girl raising slogans of “Pakistan Zindabad” and “Hindustan Zindabad” at a public rally in Bengaluru and child students and their teachers of a school at Bidar in a drama critical of the Citizenship Amendment Act and Prime Ministerover granting Indian citizenship on religious grounds to non-Muslims from three neighbouring countries and their framing up by the police under the dreaded sedition law, have put spotlight on the gross misuse of sedition laws by the official machinery.The latest data shows that this British era law remains as relevant as ever before the Independence with ever increasing arrests under this dreaded provision during the NDA Union Government and BJP ruled States. Sedition cases rose from 31 in 2016 to 51 in 2017 and 70 in 2018. NCRB does not show data of sedition cases before 2014, indicating there was negligible or nil sedition cases before 2014. Sedition, under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code(IPC), is defined any action that brings or attempts to bring hatred or contempt towards the government, has been legal in the country since 1870.

India is witnessing increasing oppression of peaceful protests by people including groups and individuals in its system of rule of law based democratic governance where people elect the government of transient majority. People, therefore, are the sovereign masters of the government they elect. People individually or in groups, who dissent against the government of the day including individual ministers, are dubbed anti-national, seditious and subjected to oppressive frame-up by the states’ machinery with the police as handy repressing tools in the forefront, making a mockery of India’s democratic governance both at home and in the comity of nations. According to the latest official data available in the National Crimes Records Bureau (NCRB) in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), there has been manifold increase in anti-national crime cases between 2014 and 2018. Most of such cases appear to be seemingly arbitrarily framed up with the negligible conviction rates.

Latest instances of a 14-year old girl raising slogans of “Pakistan Zindabad” and “Hindustan Zindabad” at a public rally in Bengaluru and child students and their teachers of a school at Bidar in a drama critical of the Citizenship Amendment Act and Prime Ministerover granting Indian citizenship on religious grounds to non-Muslims from three neighbouring countries and their framing up by the police under the dreaded sedition law, have put spotlight on the gross misuse of sedition laws by the official machinery.The latest data shows that this British era law remains as relevant as ever before the Independence with ever increasing arrests under this dreaded provision during the NDA Union Government and BJP ruled States. Sedition cases rose from 31 in 2016 to 51 in 2017 and 70 in 2018. NCRB does not show data of sedition cases before 2014, indicating there was negligible or nil sedition cases before 2014. Sedition, under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code(IPC), is defined any action that brings or attempts to bring hatred or contempt towards the government, has been legal in the country since 1870.

Compared to other offences, sedition remains a rare crime, accounting for less than 0.01 per cent of all IPC crimes. In the recent times, Assam and Jharkhand have emerged hot bed of seditious crimes pointing out 32 per cent of total seditious cases nationally. In both the States, the police haveused sedition to charge different sets of protesters. Out of the total sedition cases, only four resulted in conviction showing such cases with no legal leg as it militates against the citizen’s fundamental right to freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution. Other laws, similar in nature, are the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), the Prevention of Damages to Public Property Act, Sections 121-123 IPC, Section 153B IPC (imputation, assertions prejudicial to national integration and the Official Secrets Act. Under the Prevention of Damages to Public Property Act, cases recorded in 2016 were 5,825 followed by 7,910 in 2017 and 7,127 in 2018. Under the UAPA, 922 cases were registered in 2016, 901 in 2017 and 1,182 cases in 2018. Sections 121-123 of IPC recorded 201 cases in 2016, 109 in 2017 and 79 in 2018. Section 153B IPC registered 31 cases in 2016, 29 cases in 2017 and 38 in 2018. Under the Official Secrets Act, 30 cases were filed in 2016, 18 cases in 2017 and 40 in 2018.

Government has created four categories of anti-national crimes like North-East insurgency, Naxalism or Left Wing Extremism, Jihadi terrorism and Other terrorisms, data for which are recorded by the NCRB, for analysis, evaluation and action to deal with such crimes in keeping with the five draconian laws already mentioned. When the official data relating to sedition crimes and similar crimes for the year 2019 is available, people would know how the State Governments ruled by BJP have been hostile against itsown people staging peaceful protests against the unconstitutional Citizenship Amendment Act with state terrorism let loose on the protestors and framing them under sedition and related laws. BJP led Jharkhand Government had unleashed sedition law against thousands of tribal in one go for their peaceful protest against acquisition of their big chunk of land by the state for private industrial purposes thus depriving the tribal of their inherent right to Jal (Water), Zameen (Land) and Jungle (Forests). With the change of Jharkhand State Government, such frivolous sedition cases were withdrawn by the new government.

Sedition provision is a relic of the British era, a broadly worded preventive provision that should only be used under an emergency measure. It has no place in democratic India. NDA Union Government is opposed to its scraping ostensibly as a tool for combating ant-national, secessionist and terrorism, for which there are other draconian laws. It is learnt officiallythat the United Kingdom, which had incorporated sedition law for its own country and the countries that it ruled once, since formed as Commonwealth of Nations, has already annulled sedition law. It is time India emulated the British and abrogated the draconian sedition law to uphold human rights and dignity of its people and to strengthen and save our democracy from its unhindered arbitrary and authoritarian misuse.

About the Author

M Y Siddiqui

Mr M Y Siddiqui is the former Director (PR&S) at Government of India, as Spokesman of various Ministries (New Delhi). After his retirement he is now a well known columnist and critic. He writes on government plans & implementation and issues of deprived segments of India.

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