By Arti Manchanda:
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, post the World War II. The purpose was to state and protect the rights of all people. The declaration says that everyone is born free and equal but not always. Seema Azad, ‘Azad’ meaning free, one among the millions of Indian citizens who are born free and deserve a dignified life recently unlearnt the freedom connotations to her name. The moral responsibility that she bestowed upon herself as a journalist stood crushed by the same state that is hitherto a savoir of the rights of citizens. Seema Azad and her husband were convicted by a lower court on June 8, 2012, on charges of sedition on being accused of having links with banned Maoist outfits and were held guilty for ‘waging war against the nation’.
Not only was this decision of the lower court a mockery of justice but it also brought to the fore the prejudices of our system. Lot of naxal infested states in India shudder each time the term ‘Naxal’ finds a mention. These ultras are certainly against development as they think they have been cheated at the government’s hands. Their land, their forests have been destroyed and taken over by corporate giants. All this has been a tell-tale of paying pittance in exchange of rich nature’s bounty that these giants have taken to exploit and shattered promises to rehabilitate the natives. The key question to be asked here is how does the court or police conclude that people have naxal connections? Seema possessed some Naxal literature to study for the purpose of her profession and merely that amounted to having a connection with them. The fact that the couple had busted the mafia operated racket involved in illegal mining in Allahabad and nearby areas in conjunction with the government and police didn’t exempt them from getting caught up in a false case for writing about illegal mining.
The conviction matrix
The couple was arrested in February 2010 by the Special Task Force (STF) of Uttar Pradesh, claiming to recover Maoist literature and large amount of cash from their possession. The charges put up against them were their alleged connections with the Communist Party of India (Maoist), a banned outfit. Things were fast changing hands as the STF handed over the couple to the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of Uttar Pradesh making it a case involving ‘terrorist activity’, which claimed their involvement in inciting people through CD’s, laptops and books, resulting in a life term to them.
The storyline tussle revealed that the couple was arrested at the Allahabad railway station. However, the FIR lodged by the police showed that the couple was arrested by the STF from Khuldabad in Allahabad and then the allegations followed. Seema’s bold voice against the takeover of farmer’s lands and livelihood and exposing the reality of the witch-hunt of Muslim youth promoted by the government and its security establishment in Azamgarh is one of the prime reasons why she was targeted on false grounds.
Sedition and treason: different in letter, similar in spirit
Sedition, the stirring up of rebellion against the government in power although might be different from treason that signifies violation of allegiance to one’s state, giving aid to enemies, or levying war against one’s state, but they are both considered to be in the same spirit. Our state hardly finds time to distinguish between the two.
While the United Kingdom abolished sedition laws in 2010, sedition became a big issue in India the same year as writer Arundhati Roy, amongst others, were sought to be charged with sedition for advocating independence for the disputed Kashmir region. Many human rights activists subsequently have been charged with sedition, often referred to as ‘waging the war against the nation.’ Azad had also waged a war against the state by raising her voice against the several wrongdoings.
Seema Azad’s case is similar to that of Dr. Binayak Sen, an Indian paediatrician and a public health specialist who was also implicated by the Chhattisgarh police, for alleged naxal connections and was found guilty of sedition. Both Seema and Binayak were associated with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties and have been political activists.
This is not the first time that voices of Seema Azad and many others like her have been crushed by the constitutional machinery. This clearly shows how serious we are towards human rights. The move of the Allahabad High Court to grant bail to the couple is welcoming but the battle is only half won. Draconian laws like sedition have held many human lives to ransom and continue to do so. It is high time we value human rights.