Sedition cases multiply

BY NANDITA JHA| IN Law and Policy | 13/11/2015
From folk songs to Facebook comments, the charge of sedition is being generously applied.
A HOOT report. Research by NANDITA JHA

Singer Kovan in "Shut down Tasmac", which attracted charges of sedition 


Exactly three years ago in November 2012 the arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi for seditious cartoons provoked an outcry which reverberated for a while. But 2015 has been a busier year for sedition with not too many free speech champions losing sleep over it.  The number of cases filed has been rising every year.  The National Crime Research Bureau recorded 47 cases for last year alone, with as many as 18 in Jharkhand.

This year, the range of accused stretches from agitators for reservation for Patels and a singer criticizing a state policy on alcohol to Kashmiri slogan shouters and, hold your breath, the Finance Minister. In November there have been five cases including one filed against Aamir Khan for his statement at the Express awards. 

In October a sedition case was filed against the popular folk singer Kovan who was arrested from his home on October 30 for two music videos Oork Kuoork Kusarayam and Moodu Tasmac Moodu which went viral. He allegedly made derogatory remarks in them about Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa. On November 7,  the Madras High Court stayed the custodial interrogation.

Sedition is defined in Section 124A as: Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India.

Explanation 1.The expression “disaffection” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.

Explanation 2.Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.

Explanation 3. Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other actions of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.

This year, the most high profile case has been that of Hardik Patel, the 22-year-old leader of the Patel quota agitation over the language he used against the Gujarat police. In October, he was accused of instigating a community youth to kill policemen instead of committing suicide. He allegedly made a series of other provocative statements as well including the rhetorical exhortation to Patidar farmers to remove the high-tension electric lines passing over their agriculture fields "if the government does not satisfy our demand of reservation”. Two separate cases were filed against him.

An Indian Express editorial makes the point that every loose statement by an agitator cannot be construed as a threat to the state.  In the Patidar agitation case, one of the others who had charges of sedition pinned on him argued that leading a movement is not sedition. Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti leader Ketan Patel has asked for bail from a city sessions court.

Insisting that he had merely sought permission to hold the rally, Patel has likened the Patidar quota movement with the Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal agitation in Delhi and that of the Narmada Bachao Andolan undertaken by various activists including Medha Patkar."Does leading a movement amount to sedition? Movements are undertaken to put pressure on the government to reconsider its policies. Was Medha Patkar's movement an act of sedition?" he asked.

Public protests in Jammu and Kashmir are particularly prone to be construed as acts of sedition. Writer Arundhati Roy attracted the provision in 2010 for advocating azadi for Kashmir in a speech. In July this year seven persons in the Kishtwar region of Jammu were arrested on sedition charges for allegedly shouting pro-Pakistan, pro-freedom slogans.

The most unusual case this year illustrates the broad sweep of Section 124A. In October, a court in Mahoba district of Uttar Pradesh asked the police to file a sedition case against Finance Minister Arun Jaitley when he criticized the Supreme Court's decision striking down the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC). This was a suo moto case brought by a trial judge.

The Mahoba district Court maintained that Jaitley’s statement on Facebook was an ‘anti-national act'. Jaitley had said, "Indian democracy cannot be a tyranny of the unelected and if the elected are undermined, democracy itself would be in danger".

However, the Allahabad High Court quashed the sedition charges against Jaitley.

The Times of India reported that the High Court accepted additional solicitor general Maninder Singh's argument that the trial court neither had the jurisdiction nor power to invoke sedition charges against Jaitley for mere criticism of the SC judgment. In arguing this case, the point was also made that sedition charges could be invoked against a person only with prior sanction from the state government, which had not given in this case.

Another case filed in October was that of the Tamil folk singer charged with sedition for anti-Jayalalithaa songs, as mentioned earlier in this story.

The Times of India reported that an advocate said he had filed a habeas corpus petition in the Madras High Court for Kovan but had not been allowed to meet him. The singer is associated with a revolutionary movement called Makkal Kalai Ilakkiya Kazhagam or People’s Art and Literary Association which works to uplift the marginalised through poetry, music and art.

This month a case  was filed following a  jailbreak. TOI reported that the operations cell of the Chandigarh police on November 2 had filed a detailed chargesheet against Babbar Khalsa International leader Jagtar Singh Tara, charging him with escaping from police custody, sedition and waging war against the country in the Burail jailbreak case.

Tara, along with three others, had escaped after digging a 98-foot long tunnel in January 2004. About 24 people, including eight Burail jail officials, were booked and most of them arrested.

The chargesheet included the copies of a Pakistan-made fake ID card and four FIRs registered against him after his escape from jail for spreading terrorism in Punjab. Sedition is only one of the charges against him.

Finally on November 13  the Punjab police registered a case against the organisers of Sarbat Khalsa, a congregation of the Sikh faithful in Punjab's Chaba village on November 10, because they said "various anti national and anti social speeches were made during the function." They followed it up with two more cases--one against the leaders, and another against American Sikhs who attened the Sarbat Khalsa. A toal of three.


The Hoot is the only not-for-profit initiative in India which does independent media monitoring.
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