On March 5, I went to the Bekal police station in Kerala’s Kasaragod district to stand guarantor for one of my students. Avala Ramu from Andhra Pradesh is in the final semester of his MA in International Relations and Politics at the Central University of Kerala. He was charge-sheeted under IPC 124A, the Sedition clause. I had to pitch in since only one guarantor was available where two were needed.
The low level of human rights consciousness in a left-dominated state was striking. It may be also because the mainstream left in the state that has long abandoned the Leninist principle of self-determination as means to the democratic integration of nationalities, has become an active votary of ‘pan-Indian big nation chauvinism’.
I knew Ramu (popularly known as Ram) as a simple and innocent guy, sometimes impulsive but very sincere at heart. I witnessed him giving his testimony to the police. He was accused of making an “anti-national” Facebook post after the suicide bomb attack on a Central Reserve Police Force convoy in Kashmir’s Pulwama on February 14 that left more than 40 personnel dead. As reported in ‘The New Indian Express’ (TNIE), he had written a brief comment on facebook in relation to the Pulwama attack asking, ‘Who is the martyr! The one or the 42? # Pulwama 42 or 1. #Stand with people.’ He told the police that he had made the comment after reading the remarks of the father of the 19-year old bomber Adil Ahmed Dar. The father said that the family had considered Adil “a martyr” the day he joined the Jaish-e-Mohammed group: https://scroll.in/article/913338/by-the-time-this-video-reaches-you-ill-be-in-heaven-the-teen-behind-kashmirs-deadliest-attack. After reading this piece, I myself had felt like crying out, ‘Do something about this festering wound of a conflict.’
TNIE also reported another post from him on 22 Dec., ‘This nation should die.’ On 26.02.2019, Sunil Thomas, the Hon’ble Judge of the Kerala High Court granting him anticipatory bail admitted that such comments could have multiple meanings. (He had applied for Anticipatory Bail and successfully avoided arrest since the Sedition clause is considered a non-bailable offence.) Ram himself being a committed Marxist, this comment may well be considered as of an internationalist persuasion. He had initiated a Marx-Ambedkar Study Circle on the campus. There was also another remark which Ram says was falsely attributed to him i. e. about paramilitary forces occupying a school at Khunti in Jharkhand, depriving children of education. Probably, it was done to depict him as a Maoist so that he would not get bail. Ram further reported to the police that the topic of his MA dissertation was: ‘The Alienation of the Kashmiris and the Feasibility of Multi-Layered Federalism’. He said that he is now too disturbed to work on the topic.
The police charge-sheet against Ram was filed based on a complaint filed by the General Secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party at Uduma. There was also threatening talk that ABVP activists in the campus from his state could beat him up. Ram is now under suspension from the university with effect from 18.02.2019. This is a firsthand account of the application of the draconian sedition clause.
As Frantz Fanon in ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ (1961), the classic decolonisation manifesto said, “A bourgeois leadership of the underdeveloped countries confines the national consciousness to a sterile formalism.” This reminds us of the present-day nationalism of the flag, the map and the anthem in India. On the other hand, if we consider nationalism as love for the people, Ram, as I know him, with all his immaturities, is a good enough nationalist. The case against Ram is now under consideration of the Hon’ble High Court of Kerala.
The Indian Penal Code (IPC) 124A on Sedition says, “Sedition —Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards,  the Government established by law in [India],  shall be punished with [imprisonment for life], to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.” The clause was first introduced into the IPC in 1870 by the colonial government.
Economic Times reported on 15.01.2019 that between 2014 and 2017, 165 people were arrested for sedition but in almost every case, courts rubbished the charge and let off the accused. India Today report on 18.07.2018 says that during 2014 to 2016, 179 people were arrested on the charge of sedition but only two were convicted in those three years. This means that the clause is used only as a tool of extreme harassment. Those accused under the sedition clause can heave a sigh of relief that even the freedom fighters of India, Annie Besant, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and the father of the nation himself were also charged under sedition.
I feel, the application of the sedition clause can achieve no upsurge of patriotic sentiments but could only terrorise people into submission. It makes people self-censor the expression of their views. It should be junked instead of targeting many more young, innocent and naive persons for expressing their opinions whereas many a criminal act of anti-people (read, anti-national) elements go unquestioned.
Dr Gilbert Sebastian is an Assistant Professor at the Central University of Kerala, Kasaragod. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at: email@example.com