JNU row: What is the outrage all about sedition?

NEW DELHI,: With the Jawaharlal Nehru University issue taking several twists and turns, The Hindu takes a look at how the issue started and where.

The debate around Afzal Guru

Earlier, students from the Jawaharlal Nehru University organised an event on Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru who was hanged in 2013. This was to be done the day after Guru’s third death anniversary.

The event organisers had pasted posters across the campus inviting students to gather for a protest march against “judicial killing of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat” and in solidarity with the “struggle” of Kashmiri migrants at the Sabarmati dhaba in the campus.

Afzal Guru, the mastermind behind the Parliament attacks in 2001, was hanged in 2013.
The programme called “A country without a post office — against the judicial killing of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhatt”, was supposed to showcase the protest through poetry, art and music.

This set off the row, with the Members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) staging a protest to demand expulsion of the organisers.

The university administration ordered a “disciplinary” enquiry and said the event organisers “went ahead without permission.”

‘Anti-India’ slogans

ABVP members alleged that the protest march consisted of students shouted ‘anti-India’ slogans. A purported video from the event shows students shouting anti-India and pro-Pakistan slogans. Students in the video are heard saying slogans like: “Kashmir ki azai tak bharat ki azadi tak, janh rahegi jari”.

Students say:

The students who were part of the committee that organised an event to mark the death anniversary of Afzal Guru said that none of them were part of the group that was shouting slogans.

A student who was a part of the event organising committee, told The Hindu: “The programme was a cultural evening organised to question the working of the Supreme Court.

It was also meant to bring the grievances of the Kashmiri citizens to light. The struggles of ‘self-determination’ must be openly spoken about. Considering this is a democratic republic, why should dissent be suppressed?”

Members of the ABVP protest against JNU’s event on Afzal Guru. Photo: AP
Sedition charges

A case of sedition against several unknown students was lodged at Vasant Kunj (North) police station. It was registered under IPC Sections 124A (sedition), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (acts done by several persons with a common intention).

The university also initiated action, barring eight students from academic activity pending an enquiry, though they would be allowed to stay as guests in the hostels.

Arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar

JNU Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on sedition charges after allegations of ‘anti-national’ sloganeering against him surfaced. He was ordered to three days of police custody.

JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar. Photo: Sandeep Saxena
Why did the police take action?

The police struck after videos of the alleged protest went viral. Home Minister Rajnath Singh talked to Delhi Police Commissioner B.S. Bassi and released a statement: “If anyone raises anti-India slogans, tries to raise questions on the country’s unity and integrity, they will not be spared.”

Students protest ‘police raj’ within campus

Students of JNU gave a shutdown call, saying that they will not allow classes to be held on the campus till students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar is released. JNU teachers too, joined the students in boycotting classes and said they would take classes on “nationalism” in the varsity lawns.

The university teachers had earlier rallied behind its protesting students and questioned the administration’s decision to allow the police crackdown on the campus even as they appealed to the public not to “brand” the institution as “anti-national” but they had not joined the strike earlier.

Police personnel guard the entrance of JNU. Photo: PTI
‘Fake’ Twitter handle

Rajnath Singh alleged that JNU students had the backing of Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed. But, his statement was based “fake tweet” from an unverified Twitter account. The account has posted funny messages in the past, with many on the social media considering it as a parody account. The account @HafeezSaeedJUD is no longer in use.

When contacted, a senior officer who handles the Delhi Police Twitter account said, “What proof is there that it was a parody account? Our domain is not to check parody accounts but to red-flag any incendiary content on social media. The law is very clear on this, Internet is just a medium of communication. Idea was to caution young people and students to not get carried away by such messages.”

Journalists, activists attacked in front of Patiala Court

A student gets assaulted at the Patiala House court complex on February 15. Photo: PTI On February 14, the Patiala House courts witnessed violence as a mob, wearing lawyer’s robe, slapped and kicked supporters of Kanhaiya Kumar. The attacks began when Mr. Kumar was scheduled to appear before metropolitan magistrate Loveleen and continued for about 45 minutes during which whoever ran into the mob looking young and carrying a mobile was slapped, kicked and chased away from the premises. Journalists and students bore the brunt of the violence, while the older men and women were intimidated by the mob.
O.P. Sharma’s comments

The BJP MLA O.P. Sharma who was also in Patiala House Courts during the scuffle, got embroiled in the controversy when a video of him started surfacing. The video showed Mr. Sharma beating up a CPI worker outside the court’s gate number 4.

“As I was leaving the court I saw a man raising anti-India and pro-Pakistan slogans. I lost my cool, like any patriot, and asked him to shut up. And when I turned, he attacked me with an object.”

Mr Sharma doesn’t know what he was hit with, but the people around him got “offended seeing the MLA being attacked” and started beating up the attacker, read “anti-national”. “The problem of this country at present is that terrorism and being anti-national are considered being progressive. And JNU is promoting this kind of ideology and producing anti-nationals. JNU should be sealed,” Mr. Sharma said.

Rahul Gandhi’s role

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi criticised the BJP government, accusing it of “bullying” the prestigious institution. Soon after visiting the JNU campus Mr. Gandhi called an emergency meeting at his residence where he discussed ways to “tie up” every compelling issue the students are facing in India today and place them in its anti-BJP narrative.

Landmark sedition cases in India

Sedition was not a part of the original Indian Penal Code(IPC) enacted in 1860 and was introduced in 1870. Since then, the law has been applied several times and has undergone several interpretations. Here are some of the sedition cases that have made an impact.

Queen Empress Vs. Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1897)
This was the first instance where the law on sedition, specifically the Section 124 (a) from the Indian Penal Code was defined and applied. The Privy Council was of the view that acts like incitement to violence and insurrection were immaterial while deciding the culpability of a person charged with sedition.
Niharendu Dutt Majumdar Vs. King Emperor (1942)
The Federal Court held that “public disorder or the reasonable anticipation or likelihood of public disorder is the gist of the offence”. These judges were of the view that sedition implies resistance or lawlessness in some form. If there is no incitement to violence, there is no sedition.
Kedar Nath Singh vs State Of Bihar (1962)
This was the first case of sedition tried under independent India. The Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court interpreted the law in line with the 1842 case – a person can be charged with sedition only if there is incitement to violence in his speech or writing or an intention to create disorder.
Shreya Singhal vs U.O.I on (2015)
The court ruled that a person could not be tried for sedition unless their speech, however offensive, annoying or inconvenient, had an established connection with any incitement to disrupt public order.

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