Filing of charge sheet against former Jawaharlal Nehru University Students' Union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar, other leading lights of the students body in yester-years–Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, besides seven Kashmiris is being increasingly questioned. It is indeed a matter of serious debate on several counts. One, the timing poses questions. It took more or less three years for charges to be framed. The event named in the charge sheet relates to a students' meet in February 2016. Two, the seriousness of the charge entailed proper legal sanctions before being framed. Sedition is a serious charge. As it stands the Court in Delhi questioned the Delhi Police on the legal sanction for charges framed on January, the 14th 2019. Three, does it befit a democratic country to retain a colonial era legal measure, 72 years after independence? Among other sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) the accused are charged under section 124 A relating to sedition. Other charges applied are under section 143 relating to punishment for being a member of an unlawful assembly, and 120B pertaining to criminal conspiracy.
The legal measure on sedition 124 A is a colonial era law in chapter VI of IPC. Promulgated in 1870, it was originally invoked to suppress the increasing Wahhabi movement in that period. Initially, disaffection with the state would invoke the legal measure. Later the scope of the legal measure was widened to include evoking "hatred" and holding the state in "contempt". It may be noted as a travesty that Mahatma Gandhi regarded as the father of the nation was charged with sedation under the same section. Gandhi had challenged British rule over India in article carried by 'Young India'. He was sentenced to six years imprisonment. There were other prominent Indian leaders charged with sedition by invoking 124 A, namely Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Jogendra Chandra Bose. The harsh legal measure framed to suppress leaders and cadres of freedom movement came handy to British imperialists. It should have had no place in free India, as Pandit Nehru did state in 1951, "the sedition law is highly objectionable and obnoxious….the sooner we get rid of it the better."
The promise did not hold, as the law came handy to suppress dissent and settle political scores over the years since independence. There were reportedly 47 sedition cases reported in 2014. Free expression of views has had the sedition charge invoked on many occasions, in 2010 against widely renowned author and civil activist– Arundhati Roy. She was alleged to have made "anti-India" remarks during a seminar in Delhi. Even free expression of views in media has not been spared. Cartoonist– Aseem Trivedi was charged by Mumbai police for depicting Parliament and India's national symbols in less than desirable lights. Earlier in 2007, a doctor and civil rights activist– Binayak Sen was charged by the Chhattisgarh police with sedition among other offences. In 2010, the judicial sentence confirmed the charge, handing life imprisonment. Supreme Court, a year later reversed the sentence on charge of sedition, granting him bail, until final adjudication of the totality of charges.
Binayak Sen's case confirms that police is rather hasty in framing charges. And, the charges lack adequate backup. In the case in focus against Kanhaiya Kumar, his two associates– Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, besides seven Kashmiris, the court questioned Delhi police for filing the 2016 JNU sedition case without procuring the requisite sanctions. The court asked in the hearing on January 19th, "Why did you file (the charge sheet) without approval? You don't have a legal department?" The police submission in answering Metropolitan Magistrate Deepak Sherawat was that the requisite sanction shall be obtained within ten days. While as the filing of charges, three years after the event is suspect, inadequate backup without the proper legal sanctions reflects poorly on the police.
The event in focus relates to JNU students meet in February 2016. In the charge sheet filed in city court by Delhi Police on January 14, 2019 against Kanhaiya Kumar and others, it is related that he was leading a procession and supported seditious slogans raised on the varsity campus during an event in February 2016. Looking at the event in retrospect, as and when it happened, it was hotly debated in the media and social networking sites. There were reports of students affiliated to right wing organizations like Akhil Bhartiya Vidharti Parishad (ABVP) the students' body of BJP taking exception to campus activities of JNU students union. In February 2016, there were reports of hot exchanges and clashes in the campus. JNU students union has mostly remained in liberal hands. The leftist body has remained an eyesore for ultra-nationalists, as there is a total divergence of views.
The ultra-nationalists are inspired by cultural nationalism, which is a mix of nationalism, culture and religion. The liberal leftists take a light view of the mix, hence the severe clash of views. In the recent past, especially after BJP assumed powers, there has been a tendency to influence state institutions. And, educational campuses, particularly the prestigious institutions like JNU are being specially targeted, though it has been difficult to break the leftist bastion, inspired by the liberal traditions of the university. Kanhaiya Kumar, and his ilk– Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya have been cast as enemies out to support the groups held in contempt and trolled, such as Kashmiris, North-easterners, and Maoists. The leftists have resisted resolutely. The question is being widely asked—why are they being framed with charges, as severe as sedition, three years after the event? The answer to the question asked may lie in the general elections drawing near; hence any harsh action may be a fair game, if it can bring electoral dividends.
Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]