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Does Sharjeel Imam’s Speech Amount To Sedition?

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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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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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