Op/Ed: Democracy and Sedition In India

File Photo: Sikhs protesting against Government brutalities
File Photo: Sikhs protesting against Government brutalities

Last month witnessed protests in India as Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student union president Kanhaiya Kumar was imprisoned, charged with sedition, under section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. Kumar was arrested following a rally he helped organize on the JNU Delhi campus condemning the 2013 hanging of Mohammed Afzal Guru, a native of Kashmir who was convicted for his alleged role in the 2001 Indian Parliament attack.

At the center of this debate is the charge of sedition and its existence in the Indian Penal Code. Sedition, according to the Indian Penal Code, denotes any form of expression, whether it be verbal or written, that may induce any disaffection towards the Indian Government or India (Central Government Act, section 124A). Though it was first established in the late 19th century by the British to suppress any Indian nationalistic sentiment, India continues to use it against its own citizens (Dutta, 2012).

The obvious issue that arises from this debate is whether one has the right to practice freedom of speech in India. As some JNU students have stated, the problem is not only the unjust arrest of their student union president but the enforcement of sedition itself (Lakshmi, 2016). Can India legitimately present itself as a democratic country if freedom of speech and expression is confined solely to whatever is approved by a nationalistic mentality?

In November 2015, Sikhs in Punjab, India called for an urgent religious meeting in the village of Chabba called Sarbat Khalsa. The purpose of Sarbat Khalsa was to provide an opportunity for Sikhs in Punjab to address the continued grievances felt by the Sikh Kaum (community) and adopt new resolutions to resolve these issues. A few of the grievances addressed at Sarbat Khalsa included the desecration of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji (Sikh holy scripture that is treated as a living Guru), the innocent killings of peaceful Sikh protestors by police, the detainment of Sikh political prisoners that have served their given sentences, and widespread discontent with the current political and religious leadership.

As thousands of Sikhs worldwide joined and watched online in this momentous event, news followed that most of the organizers of Sarbat Khalsa and newly appointed religious leaders had been arrested and charged with sedition. The speeches given at the meeting were cited as anti-national and anti-social (Bassi, 2015). Some of the organizers and religious leaders of Sarbat Khalsa remain incarcerated to this day.

The arrest of Kumar and the JNU incident has been deemed, by some, as a watershed moment (Gopal, 2016). As freedom of speech and other civil liberties continue to be crushed, a time must come where Indians must reassess their chosen leadership and its oppressive ideology. Will India proudly stand behind its government’s intolerant stance on civil liberties or vow to make a social change where students, journalists, artists, and religious minorities can freely exercise their democratic rights in the world’s largest “democracy”?

Damanvir Kaur is a Human Rights Advocate living Fremont, California. She is the niece of Sikh freedom fighter Shaheed Bhai Jarnail Singh Halwara, who attained martyrdom in the armed struggle against the Indian state in 1987. 


    • Still no reply on whether you will demand Sukhbir Badal and his supporters should be arrested for their violence towards an elected representative in Ludhiana. Perhaps they need to cut down a tree as well as throw stones that could have seriously injured if not killed the occupants of the car. Cutting down a tree will definitely get you arrested for sedition in Punjab. Oh, wait you have to be a Sikh for that so Sukhbir gets off again.

      • Thinking on it Prakash Badal also needs to be arrested for sedition because hasn’t he incited communal disharmony by incendiary language declaiming Kejriwal as a ‘topiwale’? No, wait I forgot sedition charges can only be applied to Sikhs so the old man gets out of that one too.

  1. Agree, but arrest those who were raising slogan against our country… and secondly we need to understand their rationale as well and try to educate them to correct path, ofcourse not by force

    • ‘Arrest those who were raising slogan against our country’ – if you are referring to the video tapes of the JNU protest aired all over Indian TV and media it has been proven that those tapes were doctored and audio added of so-called anti-national slogans to demonise the protesters. This whole ‘anti-national’ hysteria being whipped up is very dangerous as Sikhs themselves were subjected to it in the Indian media over the Panthankot attacks recently in Punjab where national news anchors and editorials repeatedly and totally without any justification referred to Punjab’s Sikhs using emotionally and psychologically loaded terminology like ‘militant’, ‘hardliner’ and ‘radical’. Raising slogans against our country is not anti-national let alone a seditious act – every Indian citizen should have the right to dissent and protest against its government on issues of concern to them. The law on the patriarchal attitude towards accepting rape (and blaming it on the female victim) was only affected by public outrage and protest which galvanised politicians to jump on the bandwagon – that’s how proper democracy works, from the ground swell upwards when ordinary people make a stand against an injustice that is just not perceived as an injustice by those in public positions. As for ‘educating them to correct path – of course not by force’ – you can’t and shouldn’t try to brainwash jingoistic nationalistic ‘my country, right or wrong’ pride to the youth but rather equip them educationally to intellectually form objective, rational judgements and arguments so that they can discriminate between prejudicial sentiment and evidence. Samuel Johnson made the famous pronouncement that ‘patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel’. Be proud to be a human being because Waheguru has gifted you a chance to be sentient enough to be able to realise Him and escape endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth.

      • The problems is with the Empires Law.

        India State Laws are derived from the British Empire Laws .
        These Laws are actually designed to run an Empire state.
        Under the Empire laws states are very powerful and individuals are the victims of these laws.
        It is possible to run a state with out Empires law .
        We can make new laws in Nation which are best in the world and are serve as beacon for the rest of the world.


        1) 13 April 1919 :——–Jallianwala Bagh massacre the state got away with murder.
        2) 31 Aug 1984 :——- 3rd Sikh Genocide the State got away with the murder
        3) 14 October 2015 :— Behbal Kalan killings the State got away with the murder
        4) Feb 2016 :— Jat agitation killings the State got away with the murder.

        Indian Legal system needs to look at the Empires laws by Wise law makers to accommodate the aspiration of diverse set of people that inhabit this Great nation .

      • Very telling from your list you have jumped from Jallianwalah Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919 to Delhi August 1984 and completely omitted State sanctioned killing of Sikhs in 1978 in Amritsar and Bluestar in Amritsar June 1984 (which led to the killing and torture of Sikhs all around Punjab as well as in Amritsar itself). No mention made of Operations Black Thunder and Woodrose or extra judicial killings admitted by former black cat Gurmeet Pinky either although I am relieved that you at least recognise Punjabi police murdered Sikhs protesting beadbi of Guru Granth Sahib last year. I presume you will impress upon CM Badal now to reverse his earlier stance to the latter (which included his son going to victims houses and offering government jobs as hush money not to make a fuss over their dead relatives) and now at least do the decent thing and suspend and arraign these officers and be completely co-operative with Justice Katju?

      • I don’t think that they should be arrested just for a Speech.
        Freedom of Speech and thought should be hall mark of our democracy and way of life.
        If some one indulges in violence or tries to forcefully over throw an elected Govt then he should be arrested.

      • ‘If some one indulges in violence or tries to forcefully over throw an elected Govt then he should be arrested’ – so you will be calling for immediate arrest of Sukhbir Badal and his mobster cronies for attacking Kejriwal and his AAP cars in Ludhiana? NO, of course you won’t.

  2. We need to protect the Unity and Integrity of Nation along with Freedom of Speech.

    At no point free speech must lead to violence or call for disintegration of the Nation.

    • So you want a ‘democracy’ based on the Chinese Communist / Russian Federation concept where the ‘unity’ of the people and ‘integrity’ of the country trumps the civil liberties and human rights of the people including their right to self determination? What are you so afraid of? If India is so great and nothing is wrong why can’t it stand up to close scrutiny and criticism – the right to protest and dissent is not violence but arguably repression is. You want to protect unity and integrity of the country then you have to protect free speech. How many times you have posted on this site outrageous, provocative and downright falsehoods against Sikh people, Sikh history and Sikh religion but you still enjoy being able to post ramayana is real historical event and somebody else can repudiate such slander – that is free speech. if you are enjoying that time and again why do you want to stop others from enjoying free speech also. if what they say is wrong you can counter it with free speech of your own highlighting their mistakes as has been done to you so many times on this website.

      • You are free to express your speech. I am no one and cannot even stop you.
        The internet does not belong to me.
        Ramayana is a historical truth and as a Sikh I believe in its divinity.
        India is great by its Unity and not if it is broken into multiple small units.
        We will descend into a tribal way of life perpetually in conflict with each other .
        We aspire to be a Civilization and not Tribal society.

      • You are NOT a Sikh for so many reasons as you have ignorance of Sikh history (e.g. No knowledge of Maharajah Ranjit Singh’s Khalsa Raj Singh Empire, Anandpur Sahib Resolutions, 1984, 1990s), you have contempt for Sikh victims (e.g. you call one of the victims of 1984 someone who is just suffering from post traumatic stress disorder for not being able to just get over what happened to their family!) and you hold totally antithetical views (you don’t believe Gurmat principles given to Sikhs by the Gurus themselves: Miri Piri, Daswandh, Khalsa etc) and try to pass off heretical absurdities as being part of Sikh doctrine (this ridiculous foisting of ramayana as being historical events despite total lack of evidence and FACT that Sikhs do not even celebrate Diwali to commemorate flying talking monkey kings on rescue missions but rather ‘Bandi Chorh Diwas’ of 1619 when Moghul Emperor released Guru Hargobind Sahib with 52 other Raja prisoners from Gwalior Fort a few days earlier. The Guru’s arrival at Amritsar coincided with Diwali day and this concurrence has resulted in a similarity of celebrations amongst Sikhs and Hindus.)
        You are in fact an imposter posing as a Sikh to posit negative and false history of Sikhs and theology in order to confuse and corrupt Sikhs susceptible to the kind of rewriting of history that your RSS paymasters love to indulge in. Again and again you post that Sikhs should just accept the injustices and abuses done to them and indeed even suggest that we deserved them because we were in someway responsible contrary to the facts but totally in keeping with Brahmanical thinking. Only when you accept that diversity and religious tolerance are essential can India hope to live to to the ideals upon which it was founded. Sikhs are not a tribe but adherents of an internationally recognised religion.


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