Post Mortem

dissent and sedition are not the same

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 3/10/2021 12:57:10 PM IST

 One wonders whether the government and its law enforcing authority, especially the police understands what constitutes dissent and what then is the definition of sedition, because the police force in the country by and large seem to be mixing “deliberately” or “selectively” these two legal entities quite often— “not knowing” or “knowingly, not knowing”. Citizens are increasingly wonderstruck in recent times whether the police innocentlyframe the charges or deliberately act by filing charges under “sedition” against those who dissent the policies and programs of the government.

One classic example is an advocate Shiv Sagar Tiwari contended before the Supreme Court that Farooq Abdullah of Jammu and Kashmir had committed a grave error against the country byclaiming he would restore Article 370 passed by Parliament.His plea to the court that he should be punished for sedition. He also alleged that Farooq Abdullah made a statement that China would restore Article 370. Therefore, “The statement of Farooq Abdullah nothing but anti-national and seditious. If such acts are not controlled by the government, then other people like the ‘tukde-tukde’ gang having anti-national thoughts will provoke anti-national activities, destroying the peace of country.”

The bench asked the petitioner to produce the alleged statement of Abdullah, of which the petitioner failed to do so. The court insisted by asking: “Where is that statement?  The court further asked: Are you aware that the issue (on scrapping of Article 370) is pending in this court? We must penalize people for filling such petitions for publicity, the bench uttered?” The court punished the petitioner by imposing a fine of Rs. Fifty thousand and asked the petitioner to deposit the same in advocates’ welfare fund. 

Substantiating further, the court said, “There is nothing in the statement which we find so offensive as to give a cause of action for a court to initiate proceedings. Not only that, the petitioners have nothing to do with the subject matter and this is clearly a case of publicity interest litigation for the petitioners only to get their name in press. We must discourage such endeavors,” the court observed. Therefore, the context in which we live in India. the court’s order on dissent not amounting sedition assumes significance in view of the allegations of misuse of the stringent provision.

Section 124A of IPC, which talks about sedition, has been invoked frequently against people and activists such as Disha Ravi, actress Kangana Ranaut and others who expressed their opinions and views against the government and solidarity in faviour of farmers and others languishing in jails. Observations of the Supreme Court adds value and strength to many as it emphasized that citizens should not be prosecuted for expressing their opinions against the Centre and its policies. On the 3rd of March, 2021, while delivering its judgement a bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hemant Gupta dismissed a PIL, seeking prosecution of J &K former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah for sedition for expressing views against the Centre’s decision to scrap special status given to the erstwhile state under Article 370.Once again, the Court reiterated that “Dissent can’t be termed sedition.”The apex court has made an important observation in its judgement that “The expression of a view which is a dissent from a decision taken by the central government itself can’t be said to be seditious.” 

When the petitioner pleaded the court to pass an order disqualifying Farooq Abdullah from Parliament from making “anti-national and seditious” statements, the enraged bench said the petitioner should be fined for filing a “frivolous “plea.   This is how the corroded mind-set works in insidious ways. The ways with which the petitioner pleaded shows that the court should pronounce its verdict in favour of his plea that statements of Farooq Abdullah were “anti-national and seditious” and he be barred from the Parliament. 

Though there have been hiccups in some of the judgements in recent times, the verdicts the courts pronounced in recent weeks have assumed greater significance. The tactic of intimidating and frightening the young millennials in particular and others like Farooq Abdullah by the State via the police in absolute terms have failed as courts keep coming out in its observationscandidly pointing out that the State via GOI should not mix these two terms such as “dissent” and “sedition” as they are different concepts in its meaning and content.

Since 2019, the Young India in particular has been physically participating and vociferously expressing their views on several issues.Having been stunned and dismayed by the uprisings of farmers, arresting and imprisoning the young millennials, writers and cultural artists who criticize the government at the Centre of its policies and programs have to face lots of problems and go through horrifying times as they were subjected to police brutalities. The State is irked by the uprisings and protests across the country, the Government of India is using the police and para-military force to silence the growing mobilization of people across the country.

The brute State went ahead giving absolute power to attack the protesters in harsh ways using its mechanisms to quell the peoples’ uprising and movements. The totalitarian regime will spew its venom to protect its power in harsh and ruthless ways. The scenario we are heading is like “emergency” type situation.According to U.S. based think-tank Freedom House, a U.S. based non-profit, global watchdog that measures democratic profiles on its evolved parameters in its recent report pointed out that India is sliding-down on democratic values and practices.

Freedom House, known for its credibilitysince mid-1970s based on its indicators and parameters pointed out that there has been huge decline in the principles and practices of freedom of speech and other infrastructures that are offered to its citizens in most of the so-called democratic countries across the world. Some of the countries such as Russia, USA, Brazil, Turkey, India and others. As we are aware of the fact that India most of the so-called “democracies” have significantly declined in the last 20 years. 

The scenario is much worse in recent times. India is showing drastic slide in its democracy ranking amongst others and so India has further been downgradedin its ranking. If citizens, civil society organizations and judiciary fails to intervene to set the democracy back to its rails’the settings we live would become much worse.It is apparent that the current ruling dispensation is increasingly cracking down the opposition political parties and its leaders, civil society organization, sectoral level movements, silencing the journalists, intimidating and stifling the media, students and the intelligentsia. 

What is happening to our democracy is obvious! For instance, internet shut down in India is the highest in the world. Further, the Government of India is paranoid to comments passed and statements issued on matters of concern by other countries.The State wants to control by branding people as anti-nationals and therefore anti-Indians. Freedom of speech is gravely under threat. Fear, intimidation and bullying are the order of the day.Democracy is not working as those who speak their mind are silenced. 

India is moving toward “emergency type” and as days pass-by it would be worse than emergency of mid-1970s.We have been increasingly witnessing the waning of habeas corpus.Selectively, journalists, activists, academics, critics and dissenters, political leaders and intellectuals are arrested and many have not been produced before the court. Fabricated stories and charges are framed for their detention and many languish in the jails for years. This is worse than emergency of mid-70s.

During emergency some of us have experienced was that the judiciary picked up the cases barring a few, majority of the detainees were released.Now there are many languishing for years in the jails and so judiciary should engage in pro-active manner. India is now moving from “free India” to “partly free India”. Therefore, we should reckon with the fact that democracy is more than conducting elections– Parliamentary and Legislative Assembly. Democracy is not just number games, but it’s much more than that. As rightly pointed out by Tsai Ing-Wen: “Democracy is not just an election. It’s our daily life.” 

Dr. John Mohan Razu

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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