Gaging the Dissent: BJP Suppressing Free Expression, Misusing Sedition Law

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Hindu fundamentalist have succeeded in threatening publishers to withdraw publication, exerting pressure to censor films deemed offensive to their political agenda, and silencing any critical voices contesting the Hindu religious myths and legends including criticising the government. The Hindutva forces are actively contesting and trying to limit the liberal space for those having different religion and alternate sexual orientations. Those in power use not only physical force but also erase alternative interpretations and silence those who subvert, critique and dissent to ensure their version of history and religion prevails , opines Amit, in this analytical article. Power is being misused to unleash political torture and violate dignity of idealism, says the , in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party in power, hardcore nationalist and fundamentalist forces have been emboldened to suppress free expression and dissent — anyone criticising government are termed as anti-national, and being slapped with sedition and defamation charges.

 

Indian Constitution not only empowers media and free thinkers, but also those who are religiously and easily offended, where they can pursue criminal charges against editors and reporters. Particular concern is the Article 295A, 124 A and Article 298 in the Indian Penal Code. These laws have been turned around to hurt most those people who exercise their right to free speech as individuals in a secular and free country.

More alarming is the blatant abuse of colonial era sedition law contained in section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code, which makes punishable offense if one create hatred or contempt for or disaffection towards the government. This section forms part of chapter VI of the Indian Penal Code that deals with offences against the State, a passage that deals with serious offences including waging war against the State.

Thus, multicultural Indian have become problematic where anyone can be punished for voicing his or her opinion on the basis of “to excite dissatisfaction against the government,” “promote disharmony,” “prejudicial to national integration,” and expressions that are “lascivious,” “intended to outrage religious feelings,” or defamatory.

Latest such example of such cases is Amnesty International India, which is accused of sedition in India for promoting anti-India sentiments. Amnesty was slapped sedition charges under pressure from right-wing activist, for providing a platform for the families of victims of  violations in to voicing their anger and frustration.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar

A case of sedition was filed against actor-turned- politician Ramya, a Congress politician, for not sharing an opinion that ‘Pakistan is not hell’, an opinion shared after a recent visit to the country and retort to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s recent proclamation that “going to Pakistan is like going to hell”.

“I will not apologise as I have done nothing wrong. I am entitled to my views and that is what democracy is about,” Ramya told NDTV, alleging that sedition laws are misused against “anybody and everybody”. This incidence reflects the level of intolerance against the freedom of expression. This example also demonstrates how one can be penalised for having dissenting opinion from national ideological narrative.

It seems, so far, Hindu fundamentalist have succeeded in threatening (in court of law and in public by means of intimidation, physical violence and killings) publishers to withdraw publication, exerting pressure to censor films deemed offensive to their political agenda, and silencing any critical voices contesting the Hindu religious myths and legends including criticizing the government. The Hindutva forces are actively contesting and trying to limit the liberal space for those having different religion and alternate sexual orientations. Those in power use not only physical force but also erase alternative interpretations and silence those who subvert, critique and dissent to ensure their version of history and religion prevails .

However, what is more alarming is the openness with which these radicals and fundamentalist forces operate in contemporary Indian politics, where nationalistic and fundamentalist tendencies are pitching and posing serious threat to free thinking and freedom of expression. It is those forces abusing section 124 A of the IPC is quite to “instil fear and scuttle dissent” to the critiques of government.

Challenging Law: Voices from Civil Society

Civil societies have been critical to these laws. In October, 2012, J. L. Chugh, joint secretary of the Indian Home Ministry, issued a statement to the local People’s Vigilance Committee (PVCHR) on Human Rights in India, and said a hearing would be convened to discuss the sedition law. PVCHR believes that concerned law is incompatible with democracy. PVCHR requested that the Indian should immediately repeal this colonial era sedition law.

The Committee to Protect Journalist also believes that repealing such law would represent a commitment to press freedom and human rights that is in keeping with India’s democratic character. Democracies across the globe have already acted to repeal their sedition laws.

However, in a welcome move, in recent verdict, Supreme Court declared, that, “Sedition or defamation cases cannot be slapped on anyone criticising the government”. This was clear message to those abusing the law to please their political bosses or stifle the dissent. Thus, criticising government is not sedition and defamation as being promulgated by the fundamental forces to repress those voicing the dissent and restrict the freedom of expression.

Democracy and freedom of expression go hand in hand. Any attempt to restrict free expression would jeopardise the basic fabric of Indian democracy, which at the moment, seems going through the crisis.

©Amit Singh

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Amit Singh

Amit Singh

Amit Singh is a human security and social expert. He is a doctoral candidate at University of Coimbra, Portugal; hold master degrees in history, human rights, and multiculturalism. He is a columnist for several newspapers in Norway and India.
Amit Singh
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