Don't use sedition, scrap it!

IN Media Freedom | 04/08/2013
And most definitely not for textbook writers who wrongly omit Arunachal Pradesh from a map of India!
An FSH take.

 Maharashtra is touted as a progressive state - industrialised and urbanized, coupled with a hoary history of progressive social and political movements. It should have also been in the forefront of struggles to protect freedom of expression but its government seems to have other ideas.

Last week, the Maharashtra government decided to file an FIR against framers of school textbooks for omitting the North Eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh from a map. What is more, the state education minister, facing flak from angry legislators in the state legislative assembly over the omission, even agreed to consider including sedition as one of the charges!
Obviously, the legislators were passionate about protecting the country’s contours. Sure, they wanted to severely punish the ill informed and careless, albeit hopelessly underpaid and untrained, writers of those text-books, which no one will argue, requires huge improvement.
But sedition? Were the state’s legislators ill advised about the legal implications of the law on sedition – which is about inciting disaffection towards the country?  How on earth will sedition apply in this case?
What is also shocking is that the government appears to suffer completely from amnesia over its own draft guidelines on sedition, submitted to the Bombay High Court last year over the case against cartoonist Aseem Trivedi.
As it is, there has been considerable debate over the need to scrap this archaic law, thanks to the campaign for the release of Dr Binayak Sen. Union law minister Veerappa Moily was also forced to admit that sedition was an outdated law. Even the British had dropped this law in 2009!
Freedom of expression is really the hardest to protect and the easiest right to fall prey to vigilante groups and sundry offence-takers, from films, Facebook posts and art shows. Their equally aggressive counterpart, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, is no better – witness the spate of hate speech cases against MNS chief Raj Thackeray for his diatribes against North Indians.  
But when the state government is seen as upholding and engineering attacks on freedom of expression, where does one go? Take a look at some instances:
·      In 2010, Maharashtra’s Home minister and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader, R R Patil, decided not to allow the sale of James Laine’s book Shivaji - The Hindu King in Muslim India’ in stores across the state though the Supreme Court overturned a 2004 ban on the book.
·      In 2010, Mumbai University Vice-Chancellor  Dr Rajan Welukar caved in to pressure from the Shiv Sena’s youth wing to withdraw Rohinton Mistry’s book ‘Such a long journey’ from its undergraduate English course.
·      In 2011, the Maharashtra government arrested Dalit writer and editor of a cultural magazine ‘Vidrohi’, Sudhir Dhawale on charges of sedition and of being a Maoist. He is still in prison.
·      In 2011, the state government charged members of a Dalit cultural troupe, Kabir Kala Manch, as Naxalites, forcing them to go ‘underground’ to evade arrest. Two of their most prominent members – Sheetal Sathe and  Sachin Mali gave themselves up for arrest in April 2013. Sathe secured bail on humanitarian grounds as she was pregnant and close to delivery but Mali is still in prison.
A host of schoolteachers and textbook writers will join this list, if Maharashtra’s legislators have their way.