British Rulers abused the law of sedition to frighten the leaders and stifle the movement for Independence. Tilak and Gandhi were their targets. Tilak was tried twice and Gandhi was punished once for writing against British Raj and inspiring millions into the freedom struggle. When Britishers charged them with sedition truly the accused were causing disaffection and openly wanted the rulers to leave the country and let Indians rule themselves. Gandhi argued that when people want to protest against meaningless and draconian laws peacefully they were not committing any crime. Explaining non-Cooperation movement, Gandhi said that people have right not to follow anti-people laws and also to rebel against such laws.
Now the criticising Union Government and its policies is stifled with slapping of sedition charges. Ordinary protestors, schools and colleges are being 'accused' of sedition. Student's Leaders are being targeted. For opposing Article 370 changes and CAA related policies of the Government, a headmistress and parent were charged with offence of Sedition. Meaning of sedition-crime is to spread disaffection against the government coupled with provoking people to resort to violence for subversion. A BJP MP repeatedly calls for "Goli Maro" (fire the bullet) at critics of government. It is a clear case of subversion, filling hate against people, who are real rulers in democracy. It's factually proved that a couple of men resorted to 'goli' at anti-CAA protesters. But state ignores this possible sedition of ruling party MP but considers a play in a school in Bidar of Karnataka, laced with criticism against CAA and NRC with a few dialogues, showing of chappals to those demand details of people for citizenship and to the photo of PM. Judges did not see that prima facie there is no case of sedition, yet teacher and mother of schoolgirl were arrested and sent to judicial custody for that 'sedition'. The power of arrest and sending to custody amounts to 'punishment' before trial. If the court spells out verdict of innocence after a few years, makes little difference for traumatized children. Its bad to use power to prosecute selectively and blindly.
Given the stand of rulers against secular and constitutional values, one can understand their bulldozing of protests against the CAA and NRC. But how the police and courts fail to see that facts do not suggest sedition or any other crime? If they are really educated, properly trained and know plane English, how criticism of policy of the government be read as 'sedition'?
As per media reports an instant drama, without a pre-written script or serious direction was played in Shaheen School on January 21 with strong opposition to the CAA. The students were given a theme with explanation of scheme of play, and generated conversation: First child: "The government is telling Muslims to leave India and go away." Second child: "Amma, Modi is saying show documents of your father and grandfather otherwise he is telling us to leave the country." Another child says, "Hit them with slippers if anybody asks for documents." FIR says that a child had waved a slipper at the PM during its enactment. When the play was posted on facebook, an ABVP person filed complaint and police promptly registered FIR on January 26 against Head Mistress and Management persons alleging sedition. It was alleged play was spreading misinformation. The headmistress, Fareeda Begum and Nazbunnisa, the mother of a nine-year-old girl, have been remanded to judicial custody.
The landlord was more humane towards Nazbunnisa who is traumatised, while state, police and courts accused them instead of rescuing them. Imagine the trauma of children when around five times the Karnataka Police in their uniform questioned/ interrogated the minor students. They built an "inquiry room" within the school itself. Reportedly there are 85 children in the list of police to quiz. Najbunnisa's daughter said that she answered all the questions of the policemen, but still, the police is not leaving her mother. Her daughter was explaining the interrogation questions: "We were asked how we prepared. I said that we did not need any preparation. We just had to remember a few points. Then the police asked us whether it was right or wrong to kill the PM with slippers? I said that is wrong. Then I was asked if I would like to do what I did in the play again? I refused. I answered everything truthfully. Even then my mother was arrested.' But what was recorded by police was different. It says: "The girl has told the police during interrogation that she was preparing for her play at home. At that time his mother Najbunnisa encouraged him to make a statement against Prime Minister Modi." But what police recorded was: "The girl has told the police during interrogation that she was preparing for her play at home. At that time his mother Najbunnisa encouraged him to make a statement against Prime Minister Modi". Police said that as rehearsals were going on for some weeks the headmistress knew the content and that parent has been tutoring her child to use an abusive word which wasn't finally used in the play.
To make a statement against the Prime Minister is not offence and much less the sedition. Even if it is assumed that script of drama included slipper-showing to the Prime Minister and critical remarks against the CAA and NRC, it does not attract crime of sedition. At the worst, it could be defamation, for which the defamed has to personally file a case of defamation, without involving the office or the government against the director of drama and management who staged it. Mother can no away be the accused.
Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KSPCR) Chairman Dr Antony Sebastian wrote to Bidar SP, and the Deputy Commissioner, warning that police officials were liable for creating an 'atmosphere of fear' at the Shaheen Primary School and asked them to stop questioning the children. Another serious violation was when they placed a nine-year-old under the care of a neighbour and failed to alert the local child welfare committee. Sebastian, a juvenile justice advocate stated that the interactions with parents, school officials, children and the police, photographs and CCTV footage, show it clearly that the police violated the rights of the children at the school. During the investigation, the children were forced to sit at the police station. Commission found during the questioning of students that some policemen present were in their uniforms, thereby, violating the law. According to him: "The inquiry has also found that a child whose parent was arrested was sent to the home of a neighbour without informing the child welfare committee in violation of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000," The child rights commission also found that many students have stopped going to school after the police investigation.
The crimes slapped on them are under sections 124A (sedition), 504 (Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace), 505(2) (Statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes), 153A (promoting, attempting to promote disharmony) and 34 (common intent) of the Indian Penal Code. After questioning the children and women for hours together more than five times, the police arrested Fareeda Begum, the headmistress, and Najamunnisa, a parent, were under custody till bail was given in February second week.
As per Karnataka media report of December 2019, in a school run by RSS leader children enacted the demolition of Babri masjid. The video of the incident showed many children "demolish" a poster depicting the masjid and replacing it with a "Ram Temple" photo amidst chants of Ram. Union Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers, DV Sadananda Gowda; Puducherry Governor Kiran Bedi and several Ministers from Karnataka including H Nagesh and Sashikala Jolle attended as Chief Guests and guests of honour. According to Karnataka police that drama was not sedition.
The sedition is defined in IPC as: 'an act that brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise'. In Kedar Nath Singh vs the State of Bihar, Supreme Court explained the meaning: 'disloyalty to Government established by law is not the same thing as commenting in strong terms upon the measures or acts of Government, or its agencies, so as to ameliorate the condition of the people or to secure the cancellation or alteration of those acts or measures by lawful means'. It means that the subversion of the government can be an offence, but the criticism of its actions is not. Inciting violence against the state is a crime, but expressing a non-violent opinion is a democratic right. It's unprecedented oppression of expression by police and serious lack of application of mind by the prosecution and adjudicatory authorities.
Professor Sridhar is a Former Central Information Commissioner
Views Are Personal Only