It is hard to be quiet in these times. It is wrong to be silent in these times. India is still the largest democracy in the world and, yet these times make you feel otherwise. The word democracy is made of the Greek words ‘Demokratia’ from ‘demos‘, meaning people, and ‘Kratos‘ meaning power. The essence of democracy lies in the ‘power of the people‘. It is a system of governance, in which, the will of the people remains a priority. These indicate that democracy is in no way or form, similar to autocracy or dictatorship, or even military rule.
Kanhaiya Kumar’s sedition arrest was unprecedented at the time but has become a common tool to arrest dissenting students under BJP rule now.
Ever since, the latter half of 2019, India has seen a trend of acts and bills, passed without enough discussion, or without enough consideration towards consequences. Bills like the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) or the Farm Bills 2020 have faced major protests from the citizens of India. But does that help? Coronavirus silenced the CAA protests, and, the red fort incident changed many facets of the farmer protests. The protests lost supporters in many parts of the country. This, however, is not the worst part. Student arrests, police brutality, and state-approved pogrom dilute the very definition of democracy in India.
The sedition charges against Kanhaiya Kumar had once been in the headlines for being an unprecedented incident. Sedition charges are ideally for a person, who is the ‘enemy of the state‘, not a person who believes that there are problems in the ‘system‘. Section 124A IPC states:
“Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which a fine may be added; or, with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which a fine may be added; or, with fine.”
The section raises debatable questions about the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, that each Indian citizen has. However, the Supreme Court ruled out during the Sharjeel Imam case, that citizens have the right, to express their displeasure with the government, but don’t have the right to ‘incite violence’.
Other than sedition charges, citizens from Gateway of India, Mumbai; Shaheen Bagh, Delhi, and students from many central universities were arrested for participating in protests against these laws. Minorities live under the fear of becoming victims of lynchings and other hate crimes. Citizens become more and more scared of expressing their opinions.
Religion becomes the prioritized issue in elections. Women’s safety laws are curbed according to the perpetrator’s financial condition, or worse, religion and caste. Comedians like Munawar Faruqui are arrested for ‘Anti-Hindu‘ jokes, actors Debolina Dutt and Saayoni Ghosh receive rape threats for their comments or eating habits. Tandav faces legal notices, makers and cast receive murder and rape threats, what is India coming to?
The right-wing ideology, that, drives the manifesto of political parties and enables them to divide the nation is disappointing. Is this a repeat telecast of the colonial divide and rule, that India has once faced? What remains of India, as fundamental rights of citizens remain a myth? Will India continue to be the largest democracy?