Does Sharjeel Imam’s Speech Amount To Sedition?

JNU research scholar, Sharjeel Imam was arrested by a joint operation of Delhi and Bihar police, from Jahanabad, Bihar, for allegedly making inflammatory remarks against a sovereign nation, in an anti CAA protest, at Aligarh Muslim University.

In his 40-minute-speech, he suggested that the main road of Assam should be peacefully blocked, so it is disconnected from the rest of the country. For these remarks, a sedition (124A) case and other charges have been filed against Imam, in around six states, including Delhi.

Let’s analyse his statements from a Constitutional, legal and historical perspective. Article 19 (1) of the Constitution states: “All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”. Article 19 (2) State: “nothing (can) prevent the state from making any law …(to) impose restrictions…in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of the India”.

Here are two things follow. Article 19 (2) does permit restrictions on the ground of sovereignty, but it’s an enabling provision. It’s not the law itself. A law needs to be promulgated along with it, by the parliament, to put article 19 (2) into effect.

Now, let’s come to some Supreme Court (SC) judgements and historical facts pertaining to sedition (124A) cases.

Kedarnath Vs state of Bihar in 1962 – in India’s first sedition case after Independence, the Supreme Court said it only applies, if there is an actual incitement to violence. Similarly, in 1995, Balwant Singh Vs State of Punjab – in its verdict, the SC said merely sloganeering “khalistan zindabad” doesn’t amount to sedition.

This would mean that merely sloganeering and a speech doesn’t amount to sedition, unless it causes violence. In fact, sedition (124A) is colonial-era draconian law, which must be reviewed as, I believe, it’s being used as a weapon, by the government, to suppress its own citizens for political mileage.

I don’t believe Sharjeel Imam’s statement about blocking the main road which disconnects Assam from the rest of the country, amounts to sedition. In my opinion, excerpts of his speech are being played to colour him as anti-national.

In 1962, in his maiden Rajya Sabha speech, CN Annadurai said that Dravidians demand the right to self-determination. He advocated a separate country for South India. If his words were laughed off, rather than seen as a threat 58 year ago, then surely, similar calls should be treated the same way, today.

Analysing Speeches By BJP Leaders

Let’s return to the speech in question. As Delhi election campaign is in full swing, all political leaders are engaged in a trading war of words against each other. But the BJP is the only party which is consistently targeting the Muslim community, with proactive words, and what I consider ‘fake news’ and ‘hate speech’ to incite violence.

This includes BJP’s several high commanding leaders, including Union Home Minister, Amit Shah, Finance Minister for State, Anurag Thakur and its Member of Parliament, Parvesh Verma.

In a rally, Amit Shah said: “When you press the button (of EVM) on February 8, do so with such anger that its current (poll result) is felt at Shaheen Bagh”.

Parvesh Verma said: “Lakhs of people gather there [Shaheen Bagh]. People of Delhi will have to think and take a decision. They will enter your houses, rape your sisters and daughters, kill them. Parvesh Verma added, There’s time today, Modi ji and Amit Shah won’t come to save you tomorrow.”

At an election rally at one of Delhi’s constituencies, Anurag Thakur said:  “Desh ke gaddaron ko goli maro salon ko(shoot the traitors). And after few days of Anurag Thakur’s speech (which I consider seditious), on January 29, 2020, a man with a gun was spotted at Shaheen bagh (the epicentre of anti CAA protest led by women) and while brandishing a pistol. According to a report, “he climbed up the stage around 3 pm and asked people to end their agitation. He was, however, overpowered by other protestors and taken away from the site. The police said, the man had gone to the protest site along with a group of people to request the protestors to re-open a section of the blocked road for traffic and that he was carrying a licensed pistol.”

On January 30, 2020, one man, armed with a pistol shot at anti-CAA protestors, outside Jamia Millia Islamia and injured one student.

Similarly, on January 30, 2020, one man, armed with a pistol shot at anti-CAA protestors, outside Jamia Millia Islamia and injured one student. Meanwhile, this peaceful protest was moving from Jamia to Rajghat. In my opinion, overall, the radicalisation is at full swing by BJP, under the garb of fake nationalism.

I think the readers are capable enough to figure out whose statements amount to sedition – BJP’s Anurag Thakur’s, Parvesh Verma’s, Amit Shah’s or Sharjeel Imam’s.

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