By Akshay Tarfe:
On June 11, 1990, the Supreme Court of the United States made flag desecration legal in the country. All laws criminalising flag burning were declared unconstitutional. Protecting the flag was ruled as a violation of the first amendment, the right which gives unrestricted freedom of speech to the United States’ citizens. 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 a few decades or even centuries ago to represent a particular idea of ‘nation’.
Coming back to India, a lot has been already been written about the incident at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi and the chain of violent events that followed it. I will suggest that you read in detail about the chain of events. Each account points out that Kanhaiya Kumar and the JNU Students’ Union had nothing to do with protest over the death of Afzal Guru. Kumar is still attending a trial for sedition. A crime which he, in all likelihood, didn’t even commit. The latest media reports allege that the footage of the protest played in media might be doctored.
The infamous section 124A of the IPC seems nothing but the antithesis of Article 19 of the Indian Constitution and US Supreme Court’s judgement. It has been also criticised by so many Indian politicians that it is a surprise how this law still exists in the world’s largest democracy. The list includes Jawaharlal Nehru, who called it “highly objectionable” and M.K. Gandhi, who called it the “prince among political sections of Indian Penal Code.”
Now, if you are thinking that I have collected these old quotes from Google to support my argument, then look at the most recent example where former Law Minister Veerappa Moily demanded review of the sedition clauses in the IPC by the Law Commission of India.
National statistics of sedition cases have a different story to tell. The militant hit state of Jammu and Kashmir doesn’t have any single case of sedition in the year 2014, National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reports. It is surprising that police have chosen not to enforce sedition law for a state which has a long history of ‘anti-India’ slogans being raised and armed uprisings. 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 Peoples’ Democratic Party, 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 globalisation, where we talk about the world turning into a global village, how can these symbols and a 19th-century concept of a nation-state survive? One should understand that a nation-state is an idea after all. It means there should be enough scope for everybody to disagree with it, or come up with their own version of the same. If we can 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 will follow 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 a ‘flag’ project across central universities, each of which is expected to cost around 40 lakhs.