Tag Archives: sedition

Conversations on Sedition: Ritanjan Das and Abhijit Sengupta

The weeks following the February 9th incident within the JNU campus have been nothing but eventful in India’s social and political discourse. At least, this is something most of us will agree on, no matter which side of this increasingly impermeable “fence” we sit on.  There have been arguments, counter arguments thrown from each side to the other, names have been dug up and hurled across, evidence in favour of what purportedly happened or did not happen have been put up by each side for the other to see. Videos have been made, unmade; cartoons have been drawn, redrawn; political figures have been idolised, lampooned; students have been demonized and idolized; dangers of the increasing menace of nationalism and anti-nationalism have been stuffed down one’s throat through the so called idiot box or the smart net.

In the midst of this deluge of opinions and ideas, information and misinformation, the question that some have raised is, are both sides losing the plot a bit? What exactly are we discussing or debating so vociferously? Are we really listening to the other sides’ arguments, or are we just hearing a few words we want to hear and voicing our own opinions in pre-designed responses? These are some of issues we are highlighting in this piece, hopefully in a slightly different format than what we are used to elsewhere.

What follows is a conversation between two intelligent people from opposite sides of the fence. The conversation is based on some real ones, which the authors of this piece had actually engaged in with different individuals over the last few weeks. We have attempted to distil the central ideas of both sides and present it to the readers. We cannot and have not included every aspect of the ideas and opinions of both sides, and we will not include the abuse. But what we have attempted to capture, is a reasoned and rational attempt at understanding the real problem(s), as understood by each side. Continue reading Conversations on Sedition: Ritanjan Das and Abhijit Sengupta

Sedition is a Shade of Grey or, Bharat Mata’s Smothering Embrace: Ankur Tamuliphukan and Gaurav Rajkhowa

The dominant narrative around the recent JNU incident has been that the unwarranted police action and the concerted acts of violence, incitement and misinformation that followed are all part of a determined push by the saffron brigade. After love jihad and beef, the story has it, it is “sedition” and “Pakistani agent” this time—we are living in a state of undeclared emergency. A sense of disbelief and apocalyptic doom seem to underpin these sentiments, along with a nostalgic optimism for a quick return to harmony and normalcy. But such things have happened far too many times, and far too often for us to harbour such illusions. For what we are going through is in effect a recalibration of that normalcy.

To read political slogans literally is an absurdity. But in the hands of the present government, it is a calculated absurdity that reads “Bharat ki barbadi…” as armed conspiracy against the state. The variables are many—arrests, fake tweets, rampaging lawyers, patriotic house-owners and now, open calls for murder. But the calculus resolves itself into the same formula every time: national/anti-national.

At the outset, the opposition to the attack on the university campus seems to have coalesced around two points—first, maintaining a safe distance from the “anti-India” slogans raised at the meeting; and second, showing themselves as the real nationalists, standing against the saffron thugs in patriot’s disguise. Partly in response to a vicious media campaign, videos of “real nationalist” speeches at the protest venue are being posted on social media everyday. We are told at length about the “real” Indian behind the deshdrohi, his credentials, and how he wants his India to be. Things reached a disturbing pitch when spokespersons of the traditional Left went on record to express their displeasure at the real culprits not being caught. Without doubt, the saffron brigade cannot be allowed the prerogative of deciding what “the nation” means. But why do so from the flimsy ramparts of sedition? Continue reading Sedition is a Shade of Grey or, Bharat Mata’s Smothering Embrace: Ankur Tamuliphukan and Gaurav Rajkhowa

A Conversation about the Meaning of the word ‘Azadi’ (‘Freedom’) in the Wake of Events at JNU

Signal to Noise Ratio

There has been a lot of talk about what exactly ‘Azadi’ (freedom) means, especially in the wake of Kanhaiya Kumar’s post release midnight speech at JNU on the 4th of March. So lets talk some more. No harm talking. If there is noise, there must also be a signal, somewhere.

Kanhaiya Kumar clarified in his electrifying, riveting speech that his evocation of Azadi was a call for freedom ‘in’ India, not a demand, or even an endorsement of a demand for freedom ‘from’ India.

This may come as a sigh of relief to some, – Kanhaiya , the man of the moment, proves his ‘good’ patriotic credentials, leading to an airing of the by now familiar ‘good nationalist vs. bad nationalist’ trope. And everyone on television loves a nationalist, some love a good nationalist even more.

Perhaps this was a way of dealing with a bail order that was at the same time a gag order.

[ P.S. : Since writing this last night, a more careful reading of the bail order has suggested to me that the actual terms of bail are not so bad after all. Bail is in fact granted, as far as I can see, fairly unconditionally. Kanhaiya is not asked, for instance, to step down from his position in the students’ union, nor are restrictions placed on his movement and activity. So in technically legal sense, the bail provisions need not be interpreted in a tightly restricted manner. The egregious political hortations, the references to infection, antibiotics, amputation and gangrene, which are over and above the legal instructions, are indeed terrible, but operationally, they have no executive authority backing them.]

But to say just that the text of the bail order is what shaped Kanhaiya’s midnight speech would be ungenerous, and miserly, especially in response to the palpably real passion that someone like Kanhaiya has for a better world, and for a better future for the country he lives and believes in. I have no doubt about the fact that coming as he does from the most moderate section of the Indian Left (the CPI – well known for their long term affection for the ‘national bourgeoisie’ despite the national bourgeouisie’s long term indifference/indulgence towards them), Kanhaiya is a genuine populist nationalist patriot [I have corrected ‘nationalist’ to ‘patriot’ here in response to the criticism and suggestion held out by Virat Mehta’s comment – see below in the comments section] and a democrat moulded as he says, equally by Bhagat Singh and Dr. Ambedkar. There is a lot to admire in that vision, even in partial disagreement. And while some may not necessarily share his nationalism, this does not mean that one has to treat it with contempt either. I certainly don’t.

Continue reading A Conversation about the Meaning of the word ‘Azadi’ (‘Freedom’) in the Wake of Events at JNU

‘Feeling Seditious’: March on Parliament to #StandwithJNU

For the third time within a span of two weeks since the middle of February, thousands of people came out on the streets of Delhi to express their solidarity with the detained students of JNU (Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban) and to voice their anger with the venal Modi regime.

Protest demonstrations (at least in northern India) tend to have something of the monotonous in them, the same cadence, the same rhythm and the same wailing, complaining tone. They tend to have an air of events staged by the defeated, for the defeated. But if we take the last three big protests in the city, and the many gatherings in JNU in the last two weeks or so,  as any indicator of what the pulse of our time is, we will have to agree that there has been a qualitative transformation in the language, vocabulary and  affect of protests. This afternoon, like the afternoon of the 18th (the first big JNU solidarity march), and of the 23rd of February (the Justice for Rohith Vemula March), was as much about the joy of togetherness and friendship as it was about rage and anger.

Continue reading ‘Feeling Seditious’: March on Parliament to #StandwithJNU

JNUSU Statement of Thanks for Global Support and Call for International Day of Protest and Action in Solidarity with Students in India on 2nd March 2016 : Shehla & Rama Naga (JNUSU)

Guest Post by Shehla (Vice-President, JNUSU) and Rama Naga (General Secretary, JNUSU)

To all Friends (in Delhi, India and the World) who have Supported the Struggle of JNU students and students elsewhere in India  in the past few weeks.

Thank you for your message of solidarity. In this hour of unprecedented attack on us, what has been a source of great strength are messages like these, which we have pasted all over the Administration Building. We have not been able to respond to each message because of being extremely overburdened. However, we are writing back today, in order to update you regarding the status of the struggle, and with a call to action on the 2nd of March, 2016 in your city.

Call for Global Day of Protest and March to Parliament for JNU - March 2nd, 2016
Call for Global Day of Protest and March to Parliament for JNU – March 2nd, 2016

Continue reading JNUSU Statement of Thanks for Global Support and Call for International Day of Protest and Action in Solidarity with Students in India on 2nd March 2016 : Shehla & Rama Naga (JNUSU)

Sedition and the Problem of Discretionary Exercise of Police Power: Mathew John

This is a Guest Post by Mathew John

The interpretation of law does not only take place in courts. In our season of ‘seditious’ speech this would seem an obvious point as the police administration is as much engaged in the process of legal interpretation or, as legal speak would have it, exercising discretionary powers. However, while courts have to at least minimally ensure that their decisions are backed by reason and aligned with previous decisions, the cases filed against Kanaihya Kumar and others seems to suggest that the police administration can operate almost as a universe unto itself in its interpretation of Indian criminal law. Of course police action will have to tested and defended in court but what if the police bring flimsy cases to trial to inflict long drawn out legal process as punishment for dissenting speech?

There has been an avalanche of excellent recent writing in recent days on the criminal offence of sedition. These have emphasised two broad points. On the one hand they have traced the offence of sedition to the authoritarian designs of the British colonial state seeking to control restive Indian opinion. On the other, opinion has also noted that Indian Courts while upholding the constitutionality of the offence of sedition have held that the speech can be penalised on this ground only when accompanied by an imminent threat of disorder, disturbance or violence. However, the JNU fracas as other similar cases in recent memory involving Arundhati Roy, Binayak Sen and Aseem Trivedi among others, demonstrate that this judicial standard reading down the offence of sedition to a very narrow set of speech acts has not constrained subsequent police action. On the contrary police administrations in the current JNU case have pursued citizens for seditious speech even when their speech could not in any objective manner be tied to imminent threats of disorder. That is, the criminal provisions on sedition section are used against the spirit of the law as laid down by the Supreme Court and is mobilised to with little cause but the harassment of dissenting opinion. In such situations what can defenders of free speech do to ensure that legal process is not abused to harass dissent?

Continue reading Sedition and the Problem of Discretionary Exercise of Police Power: Mathew John

Citizens Committee for the Defense of Democracy on the JNU Situtation

Guest Post by Citizens Committee for the Defense of Democracy

The Citizens Committee for the Defense of Democracy strongly condemns the clampdown in Jawaharlal Nehru University. We deplore the targeting of students and teachers and condemn the culture of authoritarian menace that the Central Government has unleashed.  We strongly believe that dissent is not sedition and invoking sedition laws against students, ordering the police to enter the campus and unlawfully arresting a student leader, issuing warrants against many others on charges of inciting violence, attacking students, teachers and arrested student in the court premises, are serious assault on the fundamental rights of the citizens of this country.  The right to dissent is fundamental to maintaining democracy and the recent developments have shaken the foundations of democracy. We condemn the indiscriminate use of the colonial law of sedition on dissenting voices.

The attack on JNU is an attack on our diversity, on public funding of universities and access to higher education for the common people. The vicious campaign of ‘tax-payers’ monies funding the anti-nationals’ is highly regressive and malicious.   It is only through public funding and reservation policies that access to higher education has been expanded for students from all backgrounds, especially girl students from poorer backgrounds. It is public funding which makes higher education accessible to many. Continue reading Citizens Committee for the Defense of Democracy on the JNU Situtation