Sedition or Dissent? The Government Can’t Seem to Tell the Difference

Image Courtesy: DNA

Today marks five years since Afzal Guru was hanged to death, On February 9, 2013, for his role in the 2001 Parliament Terror Attack. His execution was carried out as a top secret government operation, code named Operation Three Star, with news of the execution reaching his family days days later, by post. His remains were buried in the jail premises.  On the same day, two years ago, an event was held at Jawaharlal Nehru University, post which, Kanhaiya Kumar, the then President of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Student’s Union, was arrested on charges of sedition. Several other students were also charged with the same.

In 2016, February 9, to mark the 3rd anniversary of Guru’s execution, some students from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) organised a cultural evening of poetry reading and poster presentation called “The Country Without a Post Office”, inside the university premises, to protest against his “extra judicial killing.” The meeting was organised by a group of ten students including Umar Khalid and Anirban Battacharya. The event, however, was disrupted by members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) student wing. The ABVP termed the event, and the students participating in the event, as “anti-national.” There were clashes between the students, with the police force having to be called inside the campus by the Vice Chancellor Jagadesh Kumar to restore the law and order situation. On 10 February, Kanhaiya Kumar , that time JNUSU  President, who was not present at the event, came out in support of the organisers, asserting that they had a right to express dissent within a university space.  On 12 February 2016, Kumar was arrested from the campus without any warning. Several other students were also charged with sedition, two of them being Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya. After Kumar’s arrest, the other students went into hiding. However, about 10 days later, on 23 February, both Khalid and Bhattacharya surrendered to the police, and were subsequently arrested on 24 February from the JNU campus. The students were eventually released on bail on 19 March 2016. However, the charge sheet against the students is yet to be filed. This, even though the video that, allegedly, showed them shouting “anti India” slogans, was proven to be doctored.

Here is an excerpt from The Hoot’s “The India Freedom Report:  Media Freedom and the Freedom of Expression in 2017.” This particular excerpt is from the chapter “Sedition”. You can read the full report here.