The slapping of terror charges for saying “comrade” and writing ‘Lal Salam’ lays bare the State’s vulnerability to growing protests.
Last week the media brought us yet another piece of shocking news. Bittu Sonowal—a supporter of the peasants’ leader Akhil Gogoi in Assam—has been booked under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). In the charge sheet filed by the National Investigation Agency, Sonowal has been accused of addressing his colleague as “comrade” and writing “Lal Salam” on his Facebook page.
The slapping of the UAPA and the colonial sedition case has become the order of the day. If a person is charged with the UAPA, they find it extremely difficult to get bail. Moreover, the burden of proving innocence lies on the accused themself. This is simply a gross violation of the principle of criminal jurisprudence that presumes an accused person innocent till they are convicted.
The sedition charge (124A)—which was framed and used against the freedom fighters by the British Indian Government—is being invoked against the dissenters. Raising slogans, writing a post on social media, and writing an article in a newspaper have become grounds for the sedition charges. This is yet another indication of intolerance of the State to hear any voice of opposition.
Mark the contradiction here. While Britain, the framer of the sedition charge, has itself scrapped the sedition cases from its penal code, the successor government led by the colonized has no hesitation invoking it against the people. This points to the vulnerability of the postcolonial State.
In other words, it exposes the State’s fragility. Perhaps, the edifice of the State is shaken more today than yesterday. Its authoritarianism, therefore, flows from this sense of insecurity and vulnerability. They, in turn, lead the State to come down upon anyone who disagrees with the State, i.e. intellectuals, activists, protestors, etc.
Note that Bittu Sonowal and two other supporters of Gogoi were arrested earlier this year and framed under the various charges of UAPA, Gogoi has been under detention since December 16 in connection with a National Investigation Agency case. The peasant leader of Assam has been booked under Sections 120B, 253A, 153B of the IPC and Sections 18 and 39 of UAPA.
Their arrests are widely seen as an act of victimization. They are being harassed because they have been at the forefront of the protest against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) when Assam rose to oppose the imposition of the CAA, seen as an exclusionary act that bars the Muslims from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh to become Indian citizens.
In the recent past, the nature of the State has become more undemocratic and authoritarian. It has no hesitation in arresting and invoking the terror charges on university students. Its cruel face gets unmasked when it jails a young pregnant woman as she spoke against a particular law and was involved in a peaceful protest at Jamia Millia Islamia.
In addition to that, the young bright minds from the minority Muslim community are being framed in terror charges, and some of them have been jailed. Their only “crime” is that they decided to come out of their classrooms to protect India’s secular values. Even a young scholar from a minority community from Manipur has been framed in sedition charges for writing an opinion piece in a local newspaper, highlighting the displacement of the local Muslims.
University professors, journalists, intellectuals, social activists—whose works are widely read, referred, and admired—are being portrayed as “threats” to the state. If giving a speech and reciting poetry can invite the State’s wrath, imagine the hollowness of the “mighty” State!
See the irony. While the world is fighting against the coronavirus, the Indian ruling classes are busy with framing, beating, arresting, and jailing the dissenters. While the other countries are releasing the prisoners amid the growing pandemic, the Indian State is preoccupied with erasing out any mark of protests. This shows nothing but the crumbling castle of the establishment. Threatened by the rising power of the people, the State can only survive by turning more draconian.
But someone may argue that the State looks more powerful under the current regime than ever? The argument may be put forward that the second term of the Hindutva government has got more seats than it had in the previous term. Undoubtedly, the seats have increased, but so have miseries and ensuing protests.
Who will deny that the Modi Government, despite enjoying dominance in electoral politics, has seen far stronger protests and resistance than seen in the earlier times? From the abolition of article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir to the imposition of the CAA, the batons and bullets of the police and the army have been met with slogans, demonstrations, and roadblocks.
With the rising tide of protests, the State feels more insecure today. First, they imposed curfews in the Kashmir valley, and the internet services and other means of communication were withdrawn. It was followed by the heavy deployment of the police and army personnel to fill the space on roads, alleys, and mohallas. The curfew-like situation and suspension of rights continue not for days, weeks, and months, but has become a permanent and normal state of affairs.
In sum, the largest democracy of the world has also become notorious for depriving people of the internet and phones for the longest period. The people could not be allowed to talk with their relatives, irrespective of their right to freedom of speech and being given constitutional protection.
This is the state of the largest democracy in the world. The way the terror charges are indiscriminately thrown at the dissenters and they are demonized as anti-national, it uncovers the deep-seated crisis of the Indian State. The task of the people’s movements is to further deepen it.