Foolish decision

It was ridiculous that the Uttar Pradesh police invoked the draconian anti-sedition law and booked some Kashmiri students under it for allegedly cheering the Pakistani cricket team during its Asia Cup match against India last Sunday.

The charges were withdrawn later in the face of widespread criticism but the initial actions of the police and even the private university where the students studied show a serious lack of sense and discernment. Altogether 67 students were suspended by the university authorities after some people complained that they committed the ‘anti-national’ act of supporting the Pakistani team. These included not only those who may have cheered the Pakistani team but also those who did not name them to the authorities. The police went a step further and slapped the most serious charge in the statute book against all of them.

The response was disproportionate and unnecessary. It amounted to using a sledgehammer to swat a fly. Cricket matches excite students and others and India-Pakistan matches are especially known to be emotive events. Pakistani teams have received encouragement in the past in the Kashmir valley and even in some other parts of the country. To consider such cheering as an anti-national and prosecute those who do so  is a folly.  It is best to ignore them. It is also valid to consider whether the police would have acted the same way if the team which was being cheered was from some other country or the students were not from Kashmir. Just as supporting the Indian cricket team is no proof of Indian nationalism, cheering of the Pakistani team cannot be considered a seditious act.

The incident has again drawn attention to the frequent misuse of the anti-sedition law, Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. It is an archaic and colonial provision enacted in 1870 and was used against freedom fighters including Gandhi. The Supreme Court has drastically limited its scope and said that it could be invoked only if there is a threat to public disorder and incitement of violence in specific circumstances.  But cartoonists, writers, social activists and protesters have been harassed and prosecuted under it. In the face of mounting criticism of the provision,  the government had promised to review it. But it still continues to be an instrument of oppression and is indiscriminately used to curb freedom of expression and legitimate protests and in situations like that in Meerut.

DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get top news in your inbox daily
Comments (+)