‘Sledge­ham­mer to crack a nut’

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

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.

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