As the dust clears, one can’t help the feeling of a slight anti-climax. Arrests have been made, assaults carried out, threats given; we have had a lot of comments and opinions delivered on the developments on JNU campus on 9th February. Videos have surfaced, only to be declared fake; allegations of sedition made against students, only to be later directed at other students. Major media houses have invited flak about their covering of this news. Political parties have extended protection, or extended their sympathies, depending on which side of the house they stand. The Home Minister has made statements against the students involved in the 9th February event, only to be corrected by a known terrorist.
In the years to come, the JNU-sedition incident will come back to haunt us. We will have to answer back to the excesses committed in the name of protecting national interests. Students arrested, only to be assaulted in police custody. Officers of the law, as lawyers are supposed to be, have committed assaults in court premises in the name of nationalism. With all this, and much more going on, here are some lessons which have come to the fore –
As defined under the IPC section 124.A –
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.
Contrary to popular perception, a group of students coming together to discuss or debate; even protest the hanging of Afzal Guru is not sedition. The charges of sedition stem from anti-India sloganeering on JNU campus on the night of the 9th of February, of which the people responsible are yet to be identified, although some reports suggest they were ABVP volunteers in the crowd that night that may have made those slogans.
Over the course of past few days, videos have emerged, claimed to be recordings of the various instances of anti-India slogans by JNU president Kanhaiya Kumar and other organisers of the event. Later news bulletins informed the general public of how videos had been tampered with to add anti-India protest audio to the visuals of the concerned people.
Not only videos, pictures of Kanhaiya Kumar with inflammatory pictures of a divided India in the background also became common on various news channels. The propagators of these fake videos and pictures have not stepped forward, and are not likely to be ever identified. Yet these medias have caused the students concerned and their extended family members to be at the receiving end of death threats.
While on the case of fake evidence, Home Minister Rajnath Singh was quick to point a connection between protests at JNU and a known pro-separatist leader and terrorist Hafiz Saeed over a tweet from a handle which was later found out to be a fake profile. An amazed Hafiz Saeed issued a denial of any association and his own amazement at being brought into the controversy.
Emotions ran high with this entire incident striking a patriotic nerve with many people. So much so, lawyers at the Patiala House court were unable to restrain themselves from letting their feelings explode in what they termed as defence of the nation.
So much was the patriotic fervour among the officers of the court; many of them were felicitated in court premises even while the Bar Council of Delhi denied the same. The assaulting lawyers, identified by the media, were seen being garlanded and congratulated while in court premises the next day.
Not just lawyers, but even the lawmakers were seen carrying out their ‘patriotic duty’; with BJP MLA Mr. OP Sharma caught on camera assaulting a bystander near the Patiala Court complex on the day of Kanhaiya Kumar’s hearing.
With the advent of social media, the citizenry has found a new platform to raise their voice on issues and concerns. Social media has been a very effective tool, albeit a double edged sword giving a platform for all spectrums of opinions to be expressed. People came out for and against the concerned students amidst reports of hate messages being received by the famil of the various accused.
What started off as a student protest had quickly devolved into an out and out mob-like situation. The main point of concern, the anti-India sloganeering is a condemnable happening and the culprits; the individuals who raised such slogans should definitely be booked under appropriate sections of the IPC. On the other hand, holding students responsible for everything that might happen in any such meet is a step too far and going into dangerous territory; especially seeing the situations student leaders from known organisations like ABVP and NSUI have repeatedly been involved in.
Kanhaiya Kumar and others have raised a dissatisfied voice which is not in sync with the state narrative. Whether or not their points were within the ambit of freedom of expression is a matter of the judiciary; what remains to be seen is how far these incidents will be taken. With various statements made by various leaders of the BJP-led government, it is clear these are murky waters and extreme care has to be taken.