Sedating Sedition

By Prabhakar Timble
29 September 2012 08:00 IST

I envy the bold, cheeky and disrespectful who become famous in a split second exclusively because of their rudeness and defiant behaviour. It is a capture of the citadel of fame involving the least effort. The shelf life of such celebrity status is for a very short period. To be precise, economists and media would wrap it up as a market period which could range from the newsmaker of the day to a material on talking point for not beyond the week.  Such personalities become household names overnight and dissolve in the diary of forgettable no sooner. They are like highly perishable commodities. The dazzling rise to fame has little to do with any productive achievement. It is the match stick ignited by some unconnected hand that lights the fire and keeps the flame of fame burning, though for a short while. Despite the fact that they come suddenly from the blue to limelight and disappear abruptly into the sea of darkness, they invite my jealousy.

Fame through sedition

Take Assem Trivedi. It was because of some eight cartoons against corruption that this activist shot into national and global fame. The straw which lifted him to the world of fame was the charge of sedition slapped by the Mumbai police, not the cartoons per se. Newspapers and periodicals were always filled with much more creative cartoons than those exhibited by this tenant for whom the charge of sedition was almost a welcome juicy gift.  A cartoon is something which is comical and yet tickles and punctures with the reality. It irrigates the saplings of deep observation and thinking.  Assem’s cartoons were harsh, loud and brazen. They were not subtle and creative as cartoons are supposed to be. His arrest gave him and his cartoons a meteoric recognition which may put R. K. Laxman, who held the fort with his common man for over four decades as a pigmy. Cartoonists of such calibre score boundaries, hit sixes without leaving the crease and notch goals without giving any opportunity to the referee to sport an off-side card. My resentment is because the Mumbai police action made Assem Trivedi the national hero of the struggle against corruption, though for a day or two. The charge of sedition was ridiculous. In fact, there was no imminent need for his arrest on any legal ground. Depicting Parliament as a toilet and national emblem as wolfs are offensive and in bad taste. Such works definitely cannot come under the realm of innovative cartoons for a national applause.  At the same time, the charge of sedition is baseless and projects the State in very poor light.

Writer Arundhati Roy made a mild remark on secession by Kashmir at a convention held at Delhi and took the easy road to be amongst the bold and famous. Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi took the centre stage and prime time on television for a fairly extended period but once the hidden architects of the show pulled the curtains, the actors had no alternative except to desert the stage.

Take Dr. Verghese Kurien. The engineer of the ‘white revolution’, whose tireless involvement of decades empowered millions of milk producers and rural families. I recollect an analytical piece by our own Claude Alvares, titled “A White Lie” (1983: Illustrated Weekly of India) tearing off the claims of the Amulman into pieces. However, the consistent work of Dr. Kurien finally nailed the Alvares ‘White Lie’ as ‘safed jhoot’. Men like Jawaharlal Nehru, B. R. Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi and at a different level Ratan Tata, Narayan Murthy and Mario Miranda etc have a contribution of lifetime and their marks would stand indelible for years and probably centuries. They are not those who have risen to fame by statements which inflame passions and heat. They have ignited the quest of the mind.

Review the penal clause

Turning back, we have the instance of Binayak Sen, paediatrician, public health specialist and the Vice-President of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) accused of sedition by the Chhattisgarh Government. He was granted bail on in April, 2011 by the Supreme Court of India which said no evidence of sedition had been produced against the accused by the Government. Sedition clause has been used mainly against human right activists, writers and intellectuals. This archaic colonial era law needs to be changed since in the present form it is invoked when any act is committed to defame the government. The object to invoke the clause of sedition should be kept within very narrow limits i.e. insurrection and rebellion.  In 1951, Jawaharlal Nehru had opined that the Section dealing with sedition under Indian Penal Code is highly objectionable and obnoxious. Mahatma Gandhi had also pleaded guilty when he was charged of exciting “hatred and contempt” against the government.

In a free democratic society, the government and police need to take a very restrictive view of sedition. This could be invoked only in the “rarest of rare” instances when there is an organised attempt to create public disorder or incite violence against the State, not necessarily against an elected government. The Union Law Ministry was considering review of the law relating to sedition. This should be done without any further loss of time to avoid mockery of the government due to misuse of the provisions. The abuse of the provision would only strengthen the demand for total scrapping of the sedition clauses. Such an action may not be in the interest of the people and the State.

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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