Freedom and its Legal Limits

By Ashwin Tombat
10 March 2017 23:39 IST

Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar's statement that he "believes" in freedom of expression within legal limits is unobjectionable. It is also completely meaningless, in the absence of any context.

Asked what he had to say about the daughter of a Kargil martyr being trolled and threatened with rape on social media, Mr Parrikar could have stood up and plainly said it was wrong, just as Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh did.

But he didn't.

Before we get into the topic further, let us talk about what, actually, is 'anti-national' or 'Sedition'. Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) 1860, known as the Sedition Law (under which Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya of JNU are to be charged), is a British colonial leftover from 1860. This very same law was used to imprison freedom fighters Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1909 and Mahatma Gandhi in 1922.

Successive judgments of the Supreme Court since Independence have made it crystal clear that advocating revolution, or even violent overthrow of the State, does not amount to Sedition, unless there is incitement to violence and, more importantly, the incitement is to ‘imminent’ violence.

Soli Sorabjee, who was Solicitor General of India in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government made it clear in the context of last year's JNU controversy, that though he found some of the slogans 'problematic' and even 'deplorable', expressing such views was not Sedition in any legal framework.

Twenty-year-old Gurmehar Kaur posted a four-and-a-quarter minute You Tube video on 28 April 2016, in which she held up 33 hand-written posters one after the other. The posters describe how she grew up hating Muslims because her father died at the hands of Pakistani terrorists, and how, when just six years old, she tried to stab a lady in a burkha, "Because for some strange reason, I thought she was responsible for my father's death".

The next poster says: "My mother held me back and made me realise that...". Then, in continuation, comes the poster that has generated the entire storm: "Pakistan did not kill my Dad, War killed him."

The next two posters say: "It took me a while to know, but today I do. I have learnt to let go of my hate." And, "It was not easy, but it's not difficult."

See the video for yourself on You Tube, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97yJsfddi4w. Then decide whether she is right or wrong.

If France and Germany could be friends after two world wars. If the US and Japan could put their past behind and work for progress, why can't India and Pakistan learn to co-exist peacefully, young Gurmehar's posters ask us.

But the self-styled super-patriots condemned her on the basis of just one poster out of 33. And the media, regrettably, chose not to make the full content of her video widely known.

When 'responsible' union ministers like Kiren Rijiju join in this uninformed, uncouth bullying, one can only see the truth in two of the posters she held up, which said: "I am questioning the calibre of leadership of both nations." And, "We cannot dream of becoming a First World country with Third World leadership."

Maybe that is the poster that actually got the powers-that-be riled up.

Blogger's Profile

Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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