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Expressing is not always anti national

Posted in Featured, View Point

Published on June 27, 2024 with No Comments

 

The Supreme Court, overturning a Bombay High Court ruling, dismissed a case against Professor Javed Ahmed Haj for his comments denouncing the abrogation of Article 370.

As a timely reminder the Supreme Court has asserted that every citizen has the right to criticise any decision of the state. The Maharashtra Police had booked Prof Javed Ahmed Hajam under Section 153-A (promoting enmity between groups on the grounds of religion, race, etc.) of the IPC for posting WhatsApp messages such as ‘August 5 — Black Day Jammu & Kashmir’ and ‘14th August — Happy Independence Day Pakistan’.

Setting aside an order of the Bombay High Court, the apex court said: ‘If every criticism or protest of the actions of the state is to be held as an offence under Section 153-A, democracy, which is an essential feature of the Constitution, will not survive.’ This is not the first case of its kind, earlier on numerous occasion ordinary citizens and even lawmakers have been booked for even expressing an opinion that the government of day didn’t fancy.

Earlier, a state lawmaker in India was arrested for criticising the prime minister, Narendra Modi, in a tweet,  raising concerns over freedom of speech in the world’s largest democracy. His arrest coincided with the arrival of the then British prime minister, Boris Johnson, in India. In another case, Jignesh Mevani, a prominent campaigner for India’s marginalised low-caste Dalit community, faced tough time with authorities as he accused the leaders of the BJP   of idolising Nathuram Godse, the assassin of India’s independence icon Mahatma Gandhi. Some fringes of the Indian rightwing revere Godse as a hero for killing the man they blame for the partition of India and Pakistan – comments that Modi has criticised in the past.

Earlier, at least 25 First Information Reports (FIR) were registered in connection with posters that surfaced across the National capital questioning Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the vaccination policy in a sarcastic tone. When posters posters were found pasted on walls and boards with the message: “Modi ji humare bachon ka vaccine videsh kyon bhej diya ?” (Why did you send our children’s vaccines abroad?), after which all the districts where the posters were found registered FIRs under relevant sections of the Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, Delhi Disaster Management Act and the Indian Penal Code. 25 persons were arrested in this connection.

The decision by the Supreme Court of India goes a long way in establishing that the right to dissent in a lawful manner is an integral part of the rights guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a).

Professor Javed Ahmed’s case has brought under scrutiny the controversial side of the police, and most of these cases were filed in states ruled by BJP.  Overzealous and pretending to be too sensitive to the criticism of the central government and state ruled by BJP, the governments have blown things out of proportion.

A time has come when the police forces in India can begin to word independently without directions from the masters in the governments. The court said the time had come to ‘enlighten and educate our police machinery’ about the concept of freedom of speech and expression and the extent of reasonable restraint on this freedom. While delivering the judgement ,  the Supreme Court suggested that police personnel must be sensitised to the democratic values enshrined in the Constitution. The registration of cases on flimsy grounds demonstrates undemocratic practice that amounts to repression.

The judgement will deter cops from acting as puppets in the hands of the governments. The governments will think twice before branding citizens as anti-national or anti-social merely on the basis of their social media posts or a mere expression of a view.

 

 

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