EDITOR: ADITYA PRAKASH
“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties” – John Milton
The liberty for free speech has become a nominal term in the recent Indian scenario. It has become a much debated term following incidents of attack on the writers, intellectuals and popular figures, which shows the weakening of the very basis of democratic society. Though freedom of speech is enshrined in the Indian constitution, the government seems to adopt an anti- liberal attitude which largely has blown the issue out of proportion.
The inability of the government to resolve the affair coupled with its blind nod to the “nationalistic” policy designed by Sangh Parivar have aggravated the crisis thus pushing the state of freedom of speech into an abyss. The current controversy concerning Jawaharlal Nehru University is yet another dereliction of government as it failed to properly address the matter in hand but instead chose to remain the stringent supporter of its youth wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).
The term freedom of speech clearly states the power or right to express one’s opinion without censorship, restraint or legal penalty. The article 19 (1) (a) of Indian constitution ensures freedom of speech and expression as fundamental human right. But this freedom, as guaranteed in the constitution is not fully exercised as the sedition charge which dates back to colonial period acquires prime importance in the Indian Penal Code. But the law ensures that “words and speeches can be criminalized and punished only in situations where it is being used to incite mobs or crowds to violent action, mere words and phrases themselves, no matter how distasteful, don’t amount to a criminal offence unless this condition is met”. The crisis at JNU came into spotlight as this basic freedom of speech was violated at the very hands of the custodians of law.
The row on India’s premier institute began when Democratic Students Union (DSU) in JNU campus organized a cultural meeting of protest against what they called “the judicial killing of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat” and to lend hands for “ the struggle of Kasmiri people for their democratic right to self-determination” on 9th February 2016. The ABVP strongly protested against the event following which the permission given for meeting was retracted.As this action is the gross contravention of freedom of speech, All India Students Federation (AISF) under the leadership of Kanhaiya Kumar, Students Union President of JNU, affirmed their solidarity for the right of free speech. Meanwhile, manipulated versions of videos regarding Kahaiya’s speech went viral through Times Now and Zee News where Arnab Goswami and Sudhir Chaudhary played their role respectively in making “anti-nationals”. Following this, Kanhaiya Kumar and some of the students were arrested and charged under sedition based on the video clippings appeared in the aforementioned news channels. Recently, Delhi police appears to have no evidence against the accused and Kahaiya Kumar received a bail.
The whole issue regarding sedition charge triggered social media response and many contemned the government for its unnecessary indulgence in the educational institute which is well known for its liberal approach. Pratab Banu Mehta, political scientist observes that “some of the students may have been deeply misguided in the beliefs they hold. But a university is the space to debate them: yes, even the hanging of Afzal Guru”.
The usage of sedition charge against students who peacefully protested is a blatant violation of free speech. The tyrannical act of the government can no way be justified and this intolerance towards freedom of expression is the clear affirmation of the burial of “Right to Speak” under the puritanical mind set. But the massive outcry of the student communities all over India against the incident reinstate the fact that they are no longer muted spectators.