“We have seen clearly and unmistakably, the institutional pillars of the republic being dismantled”.
The CJM Nigthoujam Lanleima, in its order asserted that the “contents of Facebook post as mentioned above cannot be states to bring into hatred or contempt or excite or attempt to excite disaffection towards the Government establishment by law. At most, the accused (Veewon) mention the incident of burning of assembly with approval, but I do not find any attempt or incitement to commit violence”.
What cannot be ignored is that we are also fighting a war of ideas. Love towards one’s nation cannot be regulated; it cannot be manufactured or policed. By silencing individuals using laws of sedition, institutional action, and intimidation, and by denying these citizens of the Indian republic their right to free expression, we merely brush the most hostile and destructive ideas under the carpet instead of tackling them in the public sphere.
Student leader Veewon Thokchom, who is a former president and now advisor to Manipur Students’ Association Delhi, was critical of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and was very vocal about his opinions on the same on social media. The Manipur Police alleged Veewon for spreading “provocative messages” regarding the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 which led to protests in Imphal, Manipur. A local court in Delhi issued the transit remand to a team of Manipur police against which Veewon’s brother filed an appeal in the Delhi High Court. After hearing the appeal, Justice Sunil Gaur dismissed the plea challenging Veewon’s transit remand order.
If there is a bona fide conspiracy against the Indian State, there are enough laws in the statute book to look into them. A mature, liberal democracy cannot fight its own citizens. The Law Commission in its August 2018 report pointed out that “while it is essential to protect national integrity, it should not be misused as a tool to curb free speech. Dissent and criticism are essential ingredients of a robust public debate on policy issues as part of a vibrant democracy”.
Delhi Police, firstly, filed the charge-sheet with such serious allegations after almost three years from the date of incident, and secondly, since one of the charges alleged against Kanhaiya Kumar and others is of sedition which falls under Chapter VI of the IPC, the police is bound in law to obtain sanction from the appropriate Government, in this case from the Government of Delhi, which they have not.
We would like to reiterate the request that the Congress Party consider the inclusion of repeal of Section 124A in its 2019 election manifesto. I hope that State Governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Puducherry and Karnataka will also be urged to take immediate steps for its repeal through State Amendments in order to send a salutary signal to the present Union Government and the BJP ruled states that harassing citizens for exercising their democratic right to question the government and its agencies goes against the idea of India.
All the activists arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case are left-leaning lawyers, academics and organic intellectuals who are extremely popular among the Dalit-Bahujan communities in Maharashtra and also in other states, because of the stellar work they have been doing over the years. The two sets of arrests — on June 6, 2018 and on August 28, 2018 — were based on one FIR filed on January 8, 2018. Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson as well as Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Vara Vara Rao, were arrested, while attempts to arrest Anand Teltumbde didn't succeed, and Gautam Navlakha was granted relief by Delhi High Court. While a 5000-page chargesheet has been filed, the glaring inconsistencies in the document will go down as a huge a blot on Indian democracy.
When governments, both central and state, are not tolerating genuine criticism of governmental actions, and the courts are not doing much to protect the freedom of expression, a recent judgment by the Kerala High Court introduces a fresh breeze in an otherwise tense environment, where the voices of only some kinds of majorities are being entertained, while voices of minorities are being suppressed. Also, the judgment goes a long away in furthering the labour rights of employees, to express their opinion, even if it amounts to criticism of their employer or superiors.
Early on the morning on January 1, 2018, innocent Dalits who had gathered at Bhima Koregaon, a small village about 30 kilometres from Pune, to offer their salutation to the victory pillar, were attacked by people holding saffron flags. The saffron-flagbearers attacked one and all, pelted stones, torched shops and vehicles. Many innocent Dalits got injured and one person succumbed to the injuries suffered due to stone-pelting. The news spread like wildfire and so did its videos and messages. Agitated Dalit and Bahujan activists took to streets, holding up traffic all across the State.
As the legend goes, on the eve of January 1, 1818, about 800 furious soldiers of the British army defeated the 28,000-strong Peshwa army. This victory over the Brahmninical “Peshwayi” is celebrated by the Bahujans in Maharashtra every year by visiting the obelisk that was built as a memorial for the battle and its martyrs.
The range of curbs on free speech, with unreasonable and often illegal clampdowns from various quarters – the State, both at the Centre and respective state governments; non-state actors and vigilante groups; corporations and industrialists, provides a glimpse of the challenges ahead as India heads into a national election that promises to be one of the most fiercely contested amid an increasingly polarised polity.