But what about the little guys

BY hoot| IN Media Freedom | 28/10/2010
When you raise your voice a little too stridently against injustice in India’s districts you invite charges of sedition.
Arundhati Roy’s high profile case should not obscure the truly vulnerable victims of the law of sedition. A HOOT editorial
Arundhati Roy has the eloquence, passion and profile to stump a government that is being urged by the political opposition to slap charges of sedition on her and her fellow panelists at a seminar. To bring a charge of sedition against Roy on the issue of Kashmir is going to do India’s reputation as a democracy no good, and give the Kashmiri cause a boost on the eve of US president’s visit. So it is safe to assume that Arun Jaitley and the BJP’s urgings will fall on deaf ears.  All the sound and fury in the TV studios on October 27 served its own purpose for that evening, but is  unlikely to persuade  the government to press charges of sedition. ( It is interesting to note in passing that the country’s leading TV anchors were rooting for a tough response rather than defending the right to free speech.)
Roy is special.  Her statement in response to the demand for her arrest lost no time winging its way across the World Wide Web. Fellow writers rallied: Pankaj Mishra forwarded it to Hari Kunzru who put it on his website for others to read.  She described her statement on Kashmir as a call for justice for the Kashmiri people. The Hindu gave it pride of place on its Op-ed page, and wrote an eloquent editorial  in her defence.
But we urge that the charge of sedition which came up so vociferously, not be lost sight of. For there are several faceless victims today who have  this particularly sword hanging over their  heads.  Police in different parts of the country slap on sedition charges with alacrity, and then don’t withdraw them. Stringers, activists and radical writers, found in the districts of this country where people lack both livelihoods and civil liberties, have been charged with sedition. They are ordinary people who feel as strongly about issues as Roy does, but they have no high profile defenders.  
The Hindu called the law archaic. Section 124 (A) of the Indian Penal Code, is imposed for exciting "disaffection" towards or bringing "hatred or contempt" against the government. Last year it was imposed on Laxman Choudhury, a stringer for the  daily Sambad when the local police said they found Maoist leaflets in his possession.
To quote from a story on him in the Hoot, "as Gajapati district is one of the backward tribal dominated and naxal-affected areas, Mr Choudhury has been highlighting many issues like poverty, deprivation of the people, misappropriation of government funds, all of which might made him a headache for the administration or the police. According to him he had covered one Ganja seizure story in the Mohana block. He alleges that he was asked not to release the story because there is a nexus between the ganja mafia and the police. Since then the local officer in charge was angry with him and this might be one reason for his arrest."
Held for ten weeks in Gajapati district in Orissa he was finally freed on bail on 3rd Dec 2009, but the sedition charge has not been withdrawn.
In January this year Piyush Sethia was charged for sedition, and arrested in Salem, Tamilnadu. He was an activist, trying  to circulate a pamphlet, in his capacity as a representative of a much-wider Campaign for Justice and Peace at a Republic Day function in Salem. He was planning a cycle yatra to P Chidambaram’s constituency to protest against what Operation Greenhunt was doing to adivasis in Chattisgarh. The language in his pamphlet went like this: "P.Chidambaram, who in order to pander to the imperialist designs of Tata, Essar, Mittal, Vedanta, has destroyed 644 villages, and made 3 lakh Indian refugees in their own land. India is becoming Africa. Chattisgarh is where this sorry state of affairs prevails. Under such circumstances, is the celebration of Republic Day justified? The Right to Life of Citizens of the country is a big question mark."
He was arrested when he gave the pamphlet to a police officer in Salem. The latter was not amused.
IN Orissa at least four cases of sedition were slapped on journalists and writers between 2004-2009 and it was the last two cases, barely a few months apart, against Laxman Chaudhury and Lenin Kumar, editor of a radical literary magazine, Nissan, that galvanised public opinion in Orissa on threats to freedom of speech and expression.
Lenin Kumar, was picked up by police on December 8, 2008, after a special booklet on the Kandhamal riots entitled ‘Dharmanare Khandamalre Raktonadhi' (The rivers of blood in Kandhamal) was published in the magazine. Police had been keeping a watch on him and monitoring his stand on different issues, especially after the riots. The Jagatsingpur superintendent of police had also issued a statement that Nissan was a Maoist magazine. The charges against Lenin Kumar included sedition, 153A (a) and (b), 295A and 34 of the IPC.
When you raise your voice a little too stridently against injustice in India’s districts you invite charges of sedition. According to the state, to protest in strong language against its many ills  whether in Kashmir or Orissa or Chattisgarh, is  to wage war against the state.  Arundhati Roy’s high profile case should not obscure the truly vulnerable victims of the law of sedition.
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