For his name’s Junaid Khan

Sedition, of course

News reports on page 6 of the dailies seldom attract our attention, and even less our sympathy, even when the news is deeply disturbing. One that caught my attention in the inside pages of a national daily last fortnight was that of a youth languishing in jail for five months and counting, for forwarding a group member’s WhatsApp message. 

Further perusal revealed that the jailed 21-year-old was a default administrator of the group, who ended up forwarding a certain “objectionable” message to his group. His name? Well, no prizes for guessing the category the name belongs to: Junaid Khan — the same category we are singling out for special hatred, whether in J&K, Kerala, UP, Gujarat or the North-East, for reasons that would appear stretched like a lawyer’s truth by any reasonable person. And this time, we have a B.Sc student in Madhya Pradesh arrested — on charges of sedition, no less — because of an “objectionable forward.” 

It is nobody’s case that mischievous and subversive messages do not get forwarded by mischief mongers all the time. They do. And, of course, they should be discouraged. We are not privy to what the “objectionable” message was. While our police rarely engender a perception of efficiency and uprightness, we shall nevertheless give them the benefit of the doubt and agree that the matter forwarded must indeed have been most “objectionable”.

But even so, what kind of a forward by a 21-year-old college student can conjure up visions of sedition? Even if the boy was to be discouraged, did he have to be arrested?

Could a stern warning by a cop in the police station not have sufficed? What serious damage could have been caused by a default admin’s forward of a message, howsoever objectionable, for one to be held in the lock-up for five months and counting? Would we normally take the social media transgressions of our 21-year-olds that sternly?

Wouldn’t the long incarceration with other criminals, some of them possibly hard-core, make the young man hate the society that did him in like he was a hardened criminal? If I were him, and make no mistake about it, whether or not the original objectionable message was seditious, after such an experience I would definitely be a step closer rather than a step away from seditious thoughts. Do our law-enforcement agencies have a heart? 

Nor are our police forces alone in their heartlessness. We all suffer from the same condition. That’s why, search as I would, I could barely find any references to the case beyond a single source. I saw virtually no coverage of the episode or a follow up on the matter.

We do not know if the young man is back with his family or still in the lock-up; does he still face sedition charges, or has he been freed of the charges; if he still faces the sedition charges, why should the nature of the message be such a closely guarded secret? Shouldn’t the nature of the message be made widely known so that it has a salutary effect on others not to forward similar messages? 

Of course, stone-pelters and slogan shouters calling for dividing the nation need to be seriously discouraged. But should they be shot at by the army? Of course, cows must be protected if that’s the country’s law, but should citizens transporting cattle be allowed to be lynched by unfettered mobs?

By all means, we may share our views with our daughters or sisters about whom we want them to marry or not, but thereafter, should we not leave it to them, in the age of “beti padhao-beti bachao”? Do we go about lynching young men in the name of “love jihad”?

By all means, we ought to defend our borders, but does that mean a few lakh migrants from a friendly country like Bangladesh or a fewer number of desperate Rohingyas from Burma cannot enter India without being called to be “shot dead” if they don’t leave, even as Indians by the millions migrate to greener shores legally or illegally? Of course, we need to protect ourselves from fake news and other mischievous messaging on WhatsApp, et al. But does it mean jailing 21-year-olds indefinitely on charges of sedition?

Let humanity triumph

And why do the vast majority of victims in these cases bear Muslim names? How have we turned ourselves into a nation where anyone supporting Muslims is trolled as “secular”, ostensibly meant as a terrible insult, easily forgetting that we are also sentient beings with a heart; or should be. 

Why? Because even a cursory visit of our history tells us that centuries ago, Hinduism held sway, way beyond the Indian sub-continent to encompass territories as far as Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and even beyond on the East, and Pakistan and Afghanistan to the West. Thus, in those days, Hinduism was not India, as we understand it today. Nor was India a nation, until the heroic efforts of Sardar Patel to unite 560-odd principalities into the India of today. But, just as Hindus went far and wide in history, Muslims and Christians came to India and dropped roots, whether we like it or not today.

While one can always obfuscate the issue with the formation of Pakistan, how can we not recognise that those Muslims that chose to stay back in India are as much Indians as the Hindus. India is their only home.

They are equal citizens in their choice of the gods they bow to, the food they wish to eat, the attire they wish to wear and the festivals they choose to celebrate, as much as the Hindus are to choose their own. It is time we got sensible and sensitive.

(Raghunathan is an academic and
author)

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For his name’s Junaid Khan

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