Indian opposition seeks scrapping of 1870 sedition law after students charged

Police used the 1870 law against 10 people, including a student organizer, for the 2016 rally at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University where police say anti-India posters were raised. (File/AFP)
Updated 16 January 2019

Indian opposition seeks scrapping of 1870 sedition law after students charged

  • India is sensitive about Kashmir, its only Muslim majority state, where it is struggling to put down a decades-old revolt
  • The sedition law carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment

NEW DELHI: India opposition politicians and media called for a colonial-era sedition law to be scrapped on Wednesday, accusing authorities of trying to suppress dissent after it was invoked against students marking the execution of a Kashmiri militant.
Police used the 1870 law against 10 people, including a student organizer, for the 2016 rally at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University where police say anti-India posters were raised.
The students denied the allegations and critics said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government was trying to curb free speech and pander to his Hindu nationalist base ahead of his re-election bid in a few months.
“There is no need for a sedition law in today’s times, it is a colonial law,” said Kapil Sibal, a senior leader of the main opposition Congress party.
“Many who merely speak or tweet against the government have sedition charges imposed against them; it is being misused by the center just to keep citizens in check.”
Kanhaiya Kumar, the student leader, attended the rally questioning the execution of the Kashmiri separatist convicted of an attack on parliament in 2001, but his lawyers said he rejected the use of violence and made no incendiary comments.
Instead, his supporters said he criticized a right-wing student fraternity and a Hindu-nationalist umbrella group to which Modi’s ruling party belongs.
“The fact that the charges are being made three years after the alleged use of “anti-national slogans” by JNU students in February 2016, and on the eve of the general elections, suggests that their motive is political,” Manoj Joshi, a fellow at the New Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation, wrote in Mail Today.
India is sensitive about Kashmir, its only Muslim majority state, where it is struggling to put down a decades-old revolt. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir, which they both claim in full but rule in part.
Hindu nationalists tied to Modi’s party have long advocated a tough posture on Kashmir and say any policy of appeasement undermines India’s security.
The sedition law carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
“Independent India should have the confidence to scrap the anachronistic sedition law suited for the police state that existed before 1947, and let free speech flourish without fearing its own citizens so much,” The Economic Times said.
Police in the remote northeastern Indian state of Assam said last week they were also investigating an academic, a journalist and a peasant leader for possible sedition for publicly opposing a proposal to grant citizenship to non-Muslims from neighboring Muslim-majority countries.
“This law now needs to go. A mature, liberal democracy cannot fight its own citizens,” the Hindustan Times said.


India reimposes movement curbs on parts of Kashmir’s main city after clashes

Updated 18 August 2019

India reimposes movement curbs on parts of Kashmir’s main city after clashes

  • There were violent overnight clashes between residents and police in which dozens were injured
  • India has been fighting a revolt in which at least 50,000 people have been killed

SRINAGAR: Indian authorities reimposed restrictions on movement in major parts of Kashmir’s biggest city, Srinagar, on Sunday after violent overnight clashes between residents and police in which dozens were injured, two senior officials and eyewitnesses said.
In the past 24 hours, there has been a series of protests against New Delhi’s Aug. 5 revocation of the region’s autonomy. This followed an easing in curbs on movement on Saturday morning.
The state government has said that it has not imposed a curfew over the past two weeks, but on Sunday people were being turned back at multiple roadblocks set up in the city in the past few hours. Security forces at some roadblocks have told residents there is a curfew.
Two senior government officials told Reuters that at least two dozen people were admitted to hospitals with pellet injuries after violent clashes broke out in the old city on Saturday night.
Representatives in the Jammu and Kashmir government in Srinagar and the federal government in New Delhi did not immediately return calls asking about the latest clampdown or seeking an assessment of the number of injuries and clashes.
One of the official sources said that people pelted security forces with stones in around two dozen places across Srinagar. He said that the intensity of the stone pelting protests has increased over past few days.
The heavy overnight clashes took place mostly in Rainawari, Nowhetta and Gojwara areas of the old city where Indian troops fired tear smoke, chilly grenades and pellets to disperse protesters, eyewitnesses and officials said.
Chilly grenades contain very spicy chili pepper, and produce a major eye and skin irritant, as well as a pungent smell, when they are unleashed.
The officials, who declined to be identified because they aren’t supposed to talk to the media, said clashes also took place in other parts of the city including Soura, a hotbed of protests in the past two weeks.
A senior government official and hospital authorities at Srinagar’s main hospital said that at least 17 people came there with pellet injuries. They said 12 were discharged while five with grievous injuries were admitted.
The hospital officials and a police officer told Reuters that a 65-year-old man, Mohammad Ayub of Braripora, was admitted to the hospital after he had major breathing difficulties when tear gas and chilly grenades were fired in old city area on Saturday afternoon. He died in the hospital on Saturday night and has already been buried, they said.
Javed Ahmad, age 35 and from the wealthy Rajbagh area of Srinagar, was prevented from going to the old city early Sunday morning by paramilitary police at a barricade near the city center. “I had to visit my parents there. Troops had blocked the road with concertina wire. They asked me to go back as there was curfew in the area,” he said.
Telephone landlines were restored in parts of the city on Saturday after a 12-day blackout and the state government said most telephone exchanges in the region would start working by Sunday evening. Internet and cell phones remain blocked in Kashmir.
More than 500 political or community leaders and activists remained in detention, and some have been flown to prisons outside the state.
For 30 years in the part of Kashmir that it controls, India has been fighting a revolt in which at least 50,000 people have been killed. Critics say the decision to revoke autonomy will cause further alienation and fuel the armed resistance.
The change will allow non-residents to buy property in Jammu and Kashmir, and end the practice of reserving state government jobs for local residents.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has said the measure is necessary to integrate Kashmir fully into India and speed up its development.