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Arrest of JNU’s Kanhaiya Kumar should force us to take a hard look at sedition law

Akshay Tarfe



Arrest of JNU’s Kanhaiya Kumar should force us to take a hard look at sedition law

Alot has been already written about the incident at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi and the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar after that. Each account of the incident points out that Kanaiya Kumar and JNU student’s union had nothing to do with protest about the Afzal Guru. Kumar is still attending a trial for sedition crime which he didn’t even commit.

On June 11, 1990, the Supreme Court of the United States made flag desecration legal in the country. All laws criminalizing flag burning were declared unconstitutional. Protecting the flag was ruled as the violation of first amendment, the right which gives unrestricted freedom of speech to the United States’ citizen. The attempts to reverse the Supreme Court’s judgement have failed since then.

For a nation which openly sports flags in schools, houses and universities, the judgement definitely came as a shock. The path chosen by the Supreme Court was clear. It wanted to uphold individual rights over the symbols which were formed few decades or centuries ago to represent particular idea of nation.

Coming back to India, Infamous section 124A of the IPC is nothing but the antithesis of US Supreme Court’s judgement.  It has been also criticized by so many Indian politicians that it is a surprise that how this law is still there in the world’s largest democracy. The list includes Jawaharlal Nehru, who called it ‘highly objectionable’ and M.K. Gandhi called it ‘prince among political sections in India’. Former Law Minister VeerappaMoily demanded review of the sedition clauses in the IPC by the Law Commission of India.

National statistics of sedition cases have different story to tell. The militant hit state of Jammu and Kashmir doesn’t have any single case of sedition in year 2014, National Crime Records Bureau reports. It is surprising that police have chosen not to enforce sedition law for a state which has long history of anti-India slogans and armed uprising. Then what makes alleged slogans raised in Delhi more criminal than those in the state of Jammu and Kashmir? The BJP was happily sharing power in the same state with PDP, the party which has open links with separatists. It also explains that sedition law cannot even be implemented on large scale.

In the age of globalization, where we talk about the world turning into a global village how these symbols and concept of 19th century nation state is going to survive? One should understand a nation-state is an idea after all. It means there is enough scope for everybody to disagree with it or come up with their own version of the same. If we allow anybody to disagree with basic scientific facts such as gravity or even evolution, then arresting students shouting slogans for sedition and criminal conspiracy sounds ridiculous.

More such incidents may occur if Indians in general and courts in particular do not uphold the individual rights over archaic colonial laws. Instead of that, the government has responded to this with ‘flag’ project across central universities, each of which is expected to cost around 40 lakhs. Arrest of JNU student union president Kanhaiya Kumar has caused national outrage.

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