PUDR Statement: When T-shirts become Seditious

November 12, 2014

by Peoples Union for Democratic Rights

The course of democracy in India is witnessing a major turn towards constricting the freedom of expression. Peoples Union for Democratic Rights has time and again critiqued the use of draconian laws, of which sedition is a putrid kind, to stifle political dissent and eliminate political and ideological opposition. However, the recent use of the law of sedition shows its widening use in a manner which takes this defacement to the basic freedoms of individuals to express and conduct themselves in public spaces. Acts such as wearing T-shirts of a rival cricket team or cheering for it and not standing up for the national anthem in a theatre are regarded as offence enough to be charged under the law of sedition. These cases of sedition are far from being sporadic and random and are part of a chain of events along the slippery slope of majoritarianism. Most of the cases of sedition do not result in successful prosecution but the law gives the government and the police immense and unaccountable powers to arrest and endlessly detain people as under-trials.

On November 8, 2014, ten school going boys in the Kushinagar district of Uttar Pradesh, were charged for sedition, for wearing T-shirts of the Pakistani cricket team during a Muharram procession. Though no arrests have been made, an FIR against these boys aged 10-12 has been registered, at the behest of Bhartiya Janta Party MP. Any show of affection for Pakistani cricket team is tantamount to be anti-India act and therefore seditious and this has been exemplified time and again by political authorities. In March this year the Meerut Police registered a case of sedition against 67 Kashmiri students of Meerut’s Swami Vivekanand Subharti University (SVSU) under pressure from the BJP party workers for cheering Pakistan’s victory in a cricket match. Since supporting our arch rival Pakistani cricket team is sedition, not-standing up for the national anthem certainly becomes seditious! So when a young boy from Kerala did not stand up in a theatre for the national anthem, he committed an obnoxious offence of sedition for which was arrested and denied bail for months by the court.

There was a time in this country when Tilak and Gandhi were convicted for sedition for the crime of spreading disaffection against the British Raj. In those times, section 124A of Indian Penal Code defining the British made law of sedition penalized any expression that incited feelings of disaffection among the colonized subjects against the colonial British government. India’s independence from the colonial rule brought in a native democratically elected government but not much changed in the domain of the colonial law, except for the fact that now the government found it expedient to manufacture affection by penalizing incitement to disaffection (read as absence of disaffection) against the elected government instead of a colonial one. However, recognizing that this law had the potential to truncate the fundamental right to freedom of expression and was theoretically in dissonance with the values of democracy, the Supreme Court in 1962 authored a progressive judgment in Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar (AIR 1962 SC 955), qualifying that unless an expression had tendency to create public disorder through incitement to violence, it can’t be prosecuted under the law of sedition. It is evident that apex court’s admonitions have made little impact on those tasked to uphold the constitution and enforce law.

It is actually paradoxical that the a grave act of ‘inciting people to resort to violence’ or threat of public disorder were all inherent in the actions of the BJP and its cohorts who pressured police to file charge of sedition and they openly threaten and use their muscle power to impose their parochial moral code on the society. The police it seems have become pall bearers for the bigoted mobs who claim that their preference over-rides right of citizens. PUDR strongly denounces these recent attacks on people’s freedom using an archaic law of sedition and reiterates the demand for its repeal to ensure that constitutional freedoms are not violated by a nexus of right wing extremists and the police.

Asish Gupta, D Manjit
(Secretaries)