The use of repressive laws, particularly the law of sedition, to silence emerging voices of rights and justice, has become a matter of routine, particularly in the present context of the Indian state facing a legitimacy crisis in Kashmir. The Bengaluru police on 15th August registered an FIR under section 124A of IPC (sedition), along with sections 142, 143 (unlawful assembly), 147 (rioting), 153A (promoting communal enmity) and 149 (common intent), against unnamed representatives of Amnesty International India. Amnesty had organized an event in the premises of the United Theological College, Bengaluru on 13th August, called the ‘Broken Families’. The meeting focused on the human sufferings in Kashmir and victims' struggle for justice involving the issues of the Kashmiri youths killed in fake encounters and excesses committed by the Indian security forces. The organizers have claimed that the police was present at the event and the registration of the FIR happened only after a written complaint by the activists of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) who alleged that ‘anti-India’, ‘pro-freedom’ and ‘pro-Pakistan’ slogans and songs were raised at the meeting.
PUDR believes that the case against Amnesty is a microcosm representation of the intentions of the Indian state in relation to the following:
- The frenzy of the state in hiding the institutionalized nature of gross human rights violations of people in Kashmir by Indian security forces. Encounter deaths, use of pellets against civilians as part of policing and continual denial of justice and democratic aspirations of people, have become a norm in Kashmir. Any public expression of the reality invites the wrath of the state
- The specific targeting of rights organizations with a mass reach that expose the violent and predatory nature of Indian state
- The use of sedition law as a tool to legally strip citizens of their fundamental right to freedom and expression and dissent
Amnesty International India is an NGO working for human rights and has time and again raised concerns regarding human rights violations in Kashmir and the lack of accountability on part of the authorities. In 2015, it had published a report, ‘Denied: Failures in accountability for human rights violations by security force personnel in Jammu and Kashmir’ on the same, documenting life experiences of the victims in Kashmir. Amnesty has also been vociferous in its critique of the sedition law and its misuses.
The use of sedition in the present case involving the issue of Kashmir is only the latest in the long chain of events. To name a few, it is not too long ago that the Delhi police had charged students in the Jawaharlal Nehru University in the month of February 2016 under sedition for raising ‘anti-India’ and ‘pro-azadi’ slogans giving in to the demands of ABVP. In a similar development, in March 2014, the Meerut Police had registered a case of sedition against 67 Kashmiri students of Meerut's Swami Vivekanand Subharti University (SVSU) for rejoicing Pakistan’s victory in a cricket match against India, under same kind of political pressure. The politically motivated nature of the recent cases of sedition, including the current one, is most obvious with the empowered student wing of the right wing ruling political establishment, the ABVP, being the complainant in almost all cases. The complicity of the police with the right wing forces in form of concerted legal attacks on people cannot be more apparent. The self-imposed responsibility of the right wing forces, of which the ABVP is a putrid kind, as custodians of the nation and policing it on behalf of the executive forces, grossly violates the fundamental freedoms of people to conduct themselves in political spaces, hence condemnable.
No arrests have been made in the present case so far, however what is ensured through slapping of sedition charges in such instances, is the criminalization of political questions and deterrence to people to dare not have a non-conformist voice. The alacrity with which the law is being used against people, is dangerously restricting people from existing in public spaces being denied basic democratic rights to hold a meeting, to have an opinion and to engage with any questions of rights and justice.
We unequivocally condemn sedition and other charges levelled against Amnesty and demand:
- Immediate withdrawal of all charges against Amnesty
- Repeal of the colonial law of sedition
Deepika Tandon & Moushumi Basu