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Sedition charge for cheering: A new low for India

Ayushman Jamwal @Jamwalthefirst

Updated: March 9, 2014, 7:24 PM IST
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It is sad to see the administrative machinery of India succumb to jingoism. It was shocking that a couple of students from a university in Meerut were charged with sedition for cheering for Pakistan's victory over India in the Asia cup last Sunday. Sedition is a serious charge. It is treason; an act of war against the state of India, and these students did no such thing by expressing joy over Pakistan's victory.

This case once again has illuminated the limited rationality of the administrative machinery in India. Even though the UP government entertained the sedition charge, it has become an endemic problem across the country to throw the charge around. Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was charged for his cartoon criticizing the Indian emblem; Writer Arundhati Roy was charged for supporting Kashmir's right to self-determination; Activist Binayak Sen of the People's Union for Civil Liberties was charged for citicising the government for atrocities against tribals in the Naxal affected areas.

Fortunately, there have been no convictions for cases like these. India's civil society has created enough pressure on governments to keep convictions at bay and even get charges dropped. The government takes no action against militants who behead our soldiers on the Line of Control. It does not slap sedition charges against the Hurriyat Conference and the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front for their bandhs and agitation demanding the cessation of Jammu and Kashmir. It entertains a charge targeting a group of Kashmiri students who made the mistake of not cheering behind closed doors, because it was easy. A possible win to placate the hardliners who unfortunately make us forget that every citizen enjoys inalienable fundamental and constitutional rights, the freedom of expression being one of the most important ones.

An argument that always follows these cases is that Pakistani citizens would face much more dire consequences if they cheered for India. It completely dilutes the seriousness of a sedition charge, making it seem as a light punishment as compared to what one would face in Pakistan. Political spokespersons, news anchors and living room orators end up becoming the judges of what is the acceptable nature of the personal virtue of patriotism.

Are we that morally shallow that we cannot sincerely reflect how the actions of the state fare against the ethos of our Constitution? Why do we always need the yardstick of Pakistan to tolerate jingoistic actions? Why do we reduce the discussion of such issues to the hateful political narratives of the Shiv Sena and the MNS? Why does the self-proclaimed intelligencia of this country engage in moral one upmanship with Pakistan?

In my opinion, India won that battle a long time back. Freedom is much better protected in our country. We are not a country plagued with Zameendari, and a regulated social media. Yet acts like these seem to indicate we have forgotten all that we have achieved as a country.

The Constitution is not the only victim of this case. The joy of playing and enjoying a game has also taken a hit as political nationalism always rears its head over sports. Cricket is religion and religion is political. Just like Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalithaa called for the ban of Sri Lankan players from playing in the state in order to gain the support of Tamil hardliners, cricketers will face the brunt of political tug of wars, and cricket lovers will face the pressure of politically correct cheering.

If we look at the global media, the world is aghast to see the deep-seated intolerance exposed in the world's largest democracy. Sedition for cheering is not a helpful headline for a nation that prides itself on tolerance. Moreover, the sedition charge as well as the political and media outrage against the students has had an undeniable effect in further alienating the Kashmiri youth. At the same time it has bolstered the efforts of the extremists and the separatists. 26/11 accused Hafiz Saeed and even the Pakistan foreign ministry recently stated they would offer the Kashmiri students scholarships to safely study in Pakistan.

This is the political and moral capital India loses when state and central administrations do not immediately crush such charges. Even though there have been a number of cases, no High court or even the Supreme Court has given any direction to state and central governments. India is fortunate to have an active civil society, but due to the lethargy of the administrative machinery, India is and will always pay a heavy price whenever it is unable to defend the Constitution within its own borders.
First Published: March 9, 2014, 7:24 PM IST

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