‘Sledgehammer to crack a nut’
INDIA’s increasingly fragile national ego has been hurt by a cricket match. Fifteen people, all Muslims, were arrested from Madhya Pradesh’s Burhanpur district and slapped with sedition charges for allegedly celebrating Pakistan’s victory in the final of the Champions Trophy last week.
The episode underlined a mounting trend in India of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut – a British law to muzzle criticism of the state or government, with the focus often on who said it instead of what was said.
The sedition law has an ignominious history. The colonial provision has been used against activists, political opponents, freedom fighters and even students.
In this case, for example, the families say they never celebrated India’s defeat at the hands of their arch-enemy. But even if they did, it doesn’t amount to any serious threat against the country.
Charges of sedition are usually triggered by acts intended to subvert or overthrow the government through violence.
But increasingly it is wielded as a threat to deal with people who cause discomfort, criticise policies or don’t toe the official line.
The lack of censure or efforts to whittle down the scope of this dangerous law by successive governments has led security forces to use the sedition clause regularly, and with impunity.
This augurs badly for Indians, who pride themselves on nurturing a thriving democracy.
The strength of India lies not in suppressing voices but in its long-standing tradition of multiculturalism and plurality that has held the country together even at the worst of times.
The current amplification of nationalism that seeks to take on anyone who doesn’t agree is a threat to this tradition, and is not in keeping with its cultural and democratic ethos.
The sedition law, and its repeated use, is the sharpest marker of this trend.
This has no place in India’s democracy.