On 10th January, the Assam police charged a widely respected 80 year old poet and writer Hiren Gohain, RTI farmer activist Akhil Gogoi and a senior journalist Manjit Mahanta with sedition. They were booked for their remarks against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill at an event organized by the “Nagarik Samaj”, of which they are members.
On 14 January, a charge sheet was filed by the Delhi Police against JNU students, naming 10 of them. The police submitted a 1,200-page charge sheet in the Patiala House court over the JNU event that was held on February 9, 2016 to protest the hanging of Parliament attack accused Afzal Guru. Soon after that event, the police had arrested and imprisoned three of the students. The students had been released by the courts on bail after spending weeks in jail. Now, nearly 3 years later, the charge sheet has been filed.
All these people are threatened with imprisonment for life on the charge of “waging war against the state”. According to the state, what they said or shouted was aimed at provoking violence against the state. However, it is very clear that their “crime” was that the accused expressed dissent against some policy or action of the government. In the JNU case, the students wanted to demonstrate their disagreement with the hanging of Afsal Guru on 9th February 2013. In the recent case in Assam, the Nagarik Samaj was protesting the Citizenship Bill.
Charging these individuals with sedition is totally unjust because it violates their right to conscience. Lakhs of Indians did not agree with the death sentence served on Afsal Guru and lakhs of citizens, across all sections of the people in Assam and the entire northeast are speaking out against the Citizenship Act Amendment Bill which was passed in the Lok Sabha on January 8. Is it a crime to express disagreement with the law on citizenship or with hanging a person?
In order to mobilise the broad masses of people behind its unjustifiable act, the Indian state has resorted to spreading lies and slanders against the people it charges with sedition. In the JNU case, there was an attempt to whip up hysteria against these students through the use of a doctored video where voices calling for the disintegration of India were superimposed on the visual image of the students gathering.
No wonder then, that there is widespread and growing opposition and protests against these charges of sedition against the Nagarik Samaj members in Assam and against the JNU students. What is evident to the majority of Indian people is that a colonial law is being used by the Indian state to ensure that people do not protest against their conditions.
The colonial rulers used the Sedition law to cow down the people who dared to challenge colonial rule. Why does the Indian state use this law against the Indian people? Those it has charged with Sedition are merely expressing views different from those in authority, about the solution to the problems facing Indian society. To apply the same law to our own people shows that the authority treats the people of India as enemies.
This use of the sedition law by the Indian state is totally unjustifiable. It shows that the authority of the Indian state is not derived from the people of India. It is not based on what is in the best interests of the people. On the contrary, it is responsible for the oppressive and inhuman conditions of the majority of people. It is precisely these conditions that are the cause for the disaffection and discontent of a majority of people with the state and this entire system. This is absolute injustice that people who demand justice are being jailed, while those who organize genocide and communal violence are allowed to roam free.
By accusing these people of sedition, the Indian state is trying to portray all those who are opposed to its policies and actions as against the interests of the nation. It accuses them of being anti-national. In fact, it is those in authority who are responsible for deliberately inflaming passions and working to wreck the unity and solidarity of our people
The right to conscience – the right to hold and express views that are not racist, fascist, communalist, or otherwise lower the dignity of human beings – is inviolable. Persecution of any one for exercising his/her right to conscience is totally unjustified and must be unequivocally condemned and opposed.
There is a growing demand for the removal of the Sedition law from the IPC. More and more people are seeing the real purpose behind the charge of sedition. This struggle is part of the struggle to establish a modern Indian Republic in which the human rights of all, including the right to conscience, are guaranteed with enforceable mechanisms.