A Reply to Afzal Guru’s Defense

Nandita Haksar in her article “Was Afzal Guru a martyr or a militant? JNU students were debating a question that law can’t” wrote against the hanging of Afzal Guru and justified the meeting at JNU protesting against the same.   It was tweeted by Ms Sagarika Ghose.

Ms Haksar commented: “In India we do not have a jury system. So people will have to make their own judgements. Many Indian citizens have adjudged Afzal Guru a terrorist, while their fellow citizens in Kashmir honour him as a martyr. The meeting on February 9 at JNU, which was organised by both Kashmiris and other Indian students, was an important bridge between these two understandings. Such bridges can be built most effectively by the youth. Ultimately, our borders have to be defended not against our enemies but against disaffection and alienation within our country.”(emphasis mine)

I do not agree with Ms Haksar’s reasoning.

Firstly, while India does not have a Jury System it has Bench Trial which is as much a legal system as the former.

Secondly, notwithstanding the absence of Jury System judgments are rendered by Courts  and “Indians do not have to make their own judgments”.

Thirdly, Indians citizens did not adjudge Afzal Guru a terrorist the legal system did.

Fourthly, the meeting could build no bridge because it shut out the contrary point of view by taking a firm position that Guru’s execution was “judicial murder” and that too surreptitiously under the guise of “poetry reading“.

Fifthly, it is because the country has to be guarded against disaffection and alienation that dogmatic denunciation of the system and that too in a covert manner must be deprecated.

Strangely, Ms Haksar in an earlier part of her article had mentioned, “As it happens, there is so far no evidence to show that Kumar ever shouted pro-Afzal Guru or pro-Maqbool Bhatt slogans at the February 9 event at JNU, which was organised to protest the hanging of 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.” (emphasis mine) One protests when one feels wronged. Whether slogans are shouted or not the organisation of the protest suggested an identity with the point of view with the more vocal of the protesters!

Guru, Haksar says, became a martyr because he was “hanged secretly by the Indian governmentbut as hanging follows a completed adjudication how can the hanging be “judicial murder?

And while Kanhaiya did mention Afzal Guru in the speech (reproduced in Indian Express) prior to his arrest, on his release he said Rohith not Afzal Guru is his icon! Even if we ignore Kumar’s fitfulness towards serious issues, if Kanhaiya (whom Haksar describes as a “national treasure“) has forsaken Afzal Guru, is Haksar’s espousing of Guru’s cause and that too riding on Kumar’s shoulders not utterly incongruous?

It is interesting what Nandita Haksar calls “incontrovertible facts” about the Afzal Guru case. She says, “According to Afzal Guru, it was someone in the intelligence agencies who asked him to escort Mohammad to Delhi and help him find a rented room and a car.”  (emphasis mine) The incontrovertible fact is Afzal Guru’s version which incidentally never mentioned who and in which intelligence agency told him to escort  Mohammad.

Ms Haksar goes on to say, “In the light of the controversies over Ishrat Jahan, it is not entirely unthinkable that Afzal Guru, a surrendered militant, was being used by the intelligence agencies. In the West, there have been many cases in which intel agencies used former militants and even allowed them to commit acts of terror. In this case, the intelligence agencies may have been following some intel and could not prevent the attack.” Surmises and hunches thus become “incontrovertible facts!”

As far as denial of a lawyer in the Trial Court is concerned what is important to note is that he was not given death sentence by the Trial Court (where the denial of lawyer is alleged) but by the High Court (where he was duly represented) which was upheld by the Supreme Court (where he was duly represented too).

Haksar concedes that Afzal Guru “was involved in conspiracy to attack Parliament” but says “he should not have got the death penalty.” because Azhar, Baba and Ahmed absconded ignoring that in cases of conspiracy the liability is joint and the act of others is imputed to the conspirators and because Azhar, Baba and Ahmed deserved death penalty Guru could not be treated differently. The accused who was convicted for 10 years was not convicted under Section 121 (as was Guru) but under Section 123 (for which the maximum punishment is 10 years).

The Supreme Court judgment in Guru’s case runs into about 200 pages and has 339 paragraphs but only one line from the entire judgment is reproduced which says, “The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.” This said Nandita Haksar angered the Kashmiri people. I do not know how all the Kashmiri people converged on this one line in the judgment and do not know the empirical basis for Haksar’s conviction that this line angered them. But Ms Haksar had earlier said, “The people in Kashmir started calling Afzal Guru a martyr only after he was hanged secretly by the Indian government without giving his family an opportunity to meet him a final time.” (emphasis mine) How then could the “Kashmiri people” react to the judgment which was many years earlier?? In any event the line reproduced was not the only reason given by the Supreme Court to justify dismissal of the appeal. The Court found that the conclusion reached by the High Court both with regard to “the applicability of Section 121 IPC (Waging, Attempting or Abetting War) and punishment is correct” and detailed reasons were given for the same. The judgment was not rendered by “random men” whom Haksar referred to in Chesterton’s quote and to whom she had objection but experts, specialists in the field of law.

Ms Haksar says, “The law and the media have judged Afzal Guru as a terrorist. In defiance of this judgement, the people of Kashmir have called him a martyr. Who is in the wrong then? If sentiment overrules the law, law would require continuous speculation and would vary with personal whims. And what is the basis to primacy of any one section’s whim (in this case the Kashmiri people imagined by Ms Haksar) and will such an exercise not affect the principles of stability, fidelity and rationality which alone guarantee fairness in law?

We are not concerned with what kind of person Guru was but what Guru did. Ms Haksar does not set out the “historical injustices” which she alleges qua Guru and the random references to different thinkers is actually so, random. And they do not fit with the rest of the content.

It is good to build bridges, as Ms Haksar says, but it is not correct to create divides because those who create divides will never be serious about building bridges. When one is more serious about divides than bridges, law will always be a hinderance. And the only way to justify such extra-legal behaviour is to say, as Ms Nadita Haksar has said, that what one does is what “law cant”!

Rohith & Kanhaiya-Of Dalits & Students

Discipline becomes a “Dalit” issue and Sedition becomes a case of “stifling students”.

Rohit was not suspended for being a Dalit but because of his protesting the hanging of Yakub Memon who was convicted for the 1993 Bombay bombings. And Kanhaiya was arrested for subversive speech which enjoys no constitutional protection and students are not exempted out of the requirement. Yet we are fed constantly with cries of injustice to “dalits” and “students“.

Does identity (being a Dalit) immunise conduct and is location (JNU campus) the sole reason for a privileged position?

It is indeed strange that while protesting social inequality a privileged position is being created in the enforced exemption from norms which are otherwise of general application.

And the cognitive dissonance – conflict arising from holding of contradictory beliefs – is replaced by doublethink – the simultaneous holding of contradictory beliefs entailing as Orwell said the repudiation of morality while laying claim to it!

Thus the very law and system disparaged in speeches and protests is invoked both by Rohith’s kin and Kanhaiya to seek protection from action and redressal of perceived grievances. Is this not hypocrisy parading as virtue which actually robs the protagonists of the moral high ground they seek to occupy?

In any event the question is not who Rohith was but what he did and the mere fact that Kanhaiya spoke in University campus will not make a subversive speech less so.

The defence of both Rohith and Kanhaiya entails deriving moralistic conclusions from evaluative premises which is nothing but a moralistic fallacy. Two illustrations will explain such a flawed approach: Dalits have been treated badly THEREFORE punishing Rohith, a Dalit, is wrong. And students need a free environment there all restraint on them is bad. Considering the opposition of this group to fanaticism such bullheaded opposition to reason is indeed unseemly and inappropriate.

And what will then happen to civic nationalism? Considering the vociferous opposition of the group to any ethnic basis of nationalism – because of the perceived threat of cultural assimilation – even civic nationalism – which deals with shared rights and deference to similar political procedures- would be endangered by such an approach  for rights will be claimed for some which are denied to others and exoneration from procedures, applicable to all, yet sought for a class. There will be no commonality of goals nor cooperative effort. With utter want of mutuality and enclaves of exclusiveness will there not be greater fragmentation of society and alienation of its members with no chance of inclusiveness or adaptability which is being invoked in the defence of both Rohith and Kanhaiya?

There is something fundamentally wrong with what is happening. Such an attitude must not be allowed to prevail. Denying both moral and civic virtues we will then move away from integration to disintegration. And this is injustice to all – not just Dalits and Students!

 

 

 

 

 

Sedition explained

There has ben much uninformed comment on the law of sedition, as applied in India, and the judgment of the Supreme Court in Kedarnath v State of Bihar (AIR 1962 SC 955).

It has been alleged by Lawrence Liang in Plan B for Free speech (Indian Express, February 16, 2016) that “mere speech no matter how subversive it is does not amount to sedition” (emphasis mine). Another lawyer Colin Gonsalves said (Tribune, February 12, 2016) that an offence will be sedition “only if something said against the State is coupled with a violent act to overthrow it” (emphasis mine). Yet another lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, said that the offence of sedition could be established “only if there is incitement of violence or public order”. And Kapil Sibal said there should be “intent to overthrow the government.”

The purported exposition of law of each of the aforementioned persons is incorrect.

It would be appropriate to first refer to the facts of Kedarnath. Kedarnath in one of the appeals (Criminal Appeal 169/57) had given a “statement” mentioning “dogs of CID” and “Congress gundas” and talking about their “liquidation” said “we believe in the revolution which will come” and “those who loot the country would be reduced to ashes and on their ashes will be established the government of the poor and the downtrodden people of India.” Kedarnath was charged under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code which punishes sedition.

If Lawrence Lang was right that “mere speech no matter how subversive is not sedition” Kedarnath should have been acquitted. The Supreme Court, however, upheld his conviction. The Supreme Court said that it was not contended before it on behalf of Kedarnath that the words used by him did not “come within the purview of the definition of sedition” and that no argument was advanced that “even upon the interpretation given by it” his case did not come within the mischief of the said section and hence his “Criminal Appeal 169/57 has to be dismissed”.

Before dealing with the interpretation given by the Supreme Court another equally significant aspect of Kedarnath may be referred to. There were two other appeals before the Supreme Court dealing with “speeches” given that “excited the audience with intent to create feelings of hatred and enmity against the Government. The accused were again charged under Section 124A. The High Court of Judicature at Allahabad had set aside the proceedings holding that Section 124A was ultra-vires Article 19(1)(a). If Lawrence Lang’s understanding of sedition is the law the appeals against the said setting aside should have been dismissed. But the Supreme Court instead of dismissing the said appeals remanded the matter to the High Court for consideration in light of its judgment and hence decide whether the speeches were seditious. The case against them, therefore, could not be rejected at the thresh-hold.

It is now necessary to understand what the Supreme Court held. The Supreme Court had before it conflicting decisions of the Federal Court and Privy Council on the meaning of sedition and accepted the interpretation of the Federal Court as to the gist of criminality in Section 124A. The Federal Court had held that “words, deeds or writings constitute sedition” if they create public disturbance, promote disorder or incite others to do so. And the Supreme Court summed up the law thus: “We have no hesitation in so construing the provisions of the section impugned in these cases to acts involving intention or tendency to create disorder, or disturbance of law and order, or incitement to violence.”

A “subversive” speech is inflammatory, treasonous and incendiary. The words “subversive” means a tendency to “subvert”. And “subvert” is defined in the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as “corrupt, pervert, disturb or overthrow a system” and “weakening or destruction of a country, government or a political regime”. A subversive speech is bound to have “the tendency” to create public disturbance and promote public disorder and hence is liable to prosecution for sedition.

The offence of sedition is made one because it is “in the interest of public order” which is one of the limitations on freedom of speech under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. And as the Supreme Court itself held, “This Court as the custodian and guarantor of the fundamental rights of the citizens has the duty cast upon it of striking down any law which unduly restricts freedom of speech and expression. But the freedom has to be guarded against becoming a licence for vilification and condemnation of the Government established by law in words which incite violence or have the tendency to create public order.” This is precisely what the Federal Court had also held.

It is thus also wrong to say that sedition can be established “only if there is incitement to violence or public disorder. It is not only causing violence or public disorder which will attract the offence of sedition but independent of the same the tendency to create public disorder which equally attracts liability. Putting it differently it is not an actor’s willful and deliberate stirring of public disorder alone which constitutes sedition but likeliness of disorder because of the quality of inherent in the act which is equally independently seditious. Thus Kapil Sibal is wrong when he says that sedition is justified only when there is “an intent to overthrow the government.”

There is also no requirement as has been suggested by some lawyers that an offence will be sedition “only if it is accompanied with a violent act to overthrow the state.” Stephen’s Commentaries on the Laws of England was cited by the Supreme Court itself and it described sedition thus: “We are now concerned with conduct which on the one hand falls short of treason and on the other does not involve the use of force or violence. The law has to reconcile the right of private criticism with the necessity of securing safety and stability of the State…The seditious conduct can be by words, by deed, or by writing.”

A bad tendency alone is enough to attract the offence of sedition. The charge in Kedarnath’s case itself shows that the test for invocation of the offence of sedition is neither “imminence” of disorder nor “a clear and present danger of it”. Notwithstanding there being no immediate prospect of “revolution” which Kedarnath mentioned nor the immediate possibility of the existing dispensation “being reduced to ashes” as he desired the “bad tendency” of what he spoke was itself sufficient for his prosecution for sedition. The judgment in Shreya Singhal’s case is sometimes referred to for reliance on “clear and present danger” test as the basis of justification on any speech but what is ignored is not merely that the Bench Strength of the said case was two judges only (Kedarnath was five) but also that it specifically mentioned Kedarnath and other cases to affirm that restrictions on freedom of speech can be justified on the ground of their having a “tendency” to cause harm, the test applied in Kedarnath. In any event hatred, contempt or disaffection cannot never get constitutional protection.

Mr Sorabjee added a new twist to the whole issue. In an interview he suggested that Pakistan zindabad is not sedition but Hindustan murdabad might be sedition. This creates a piquant situation. Please consider the consequences. An Indian (according to Mr Sorabjee) is immune against action if he shouts Pakistan Zindabad but if he shouts Hindustan Murdabad its impropriety needs to be debated. And debate is protected! But if debate is protected how can that which is being debated (Hindustan Murdabad) be the cause of arrest? Arrest thus will be unwarranted in both cases whether one shouts Pakistan Zindabad or Hindustan Murdabad! Indians can thus travel the length and breadth of the country either shouting Pakistan Zindabad or Hindustan Murdabad and not be tried for sedition. But if one protests against this he is liable to be arrested for objecting to legitimate political action!

Four other aspects need to be noted here.

It is, firstly, said that Section 124A has been used to imprison Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi and the very use against such outstanding Indians shows abuses inherent in the provision. The criticism however misses the fact that interpretation of the said section as used to prosecute Tilak has been rejected by the Supreme Court which not only followed the Federal Court’s interpretation instead of that of the Privy Council but also rejected challenge to its legality for violating Article 19(1)(a).

The repeal of sedition in the UK is next referred to as necessitating a similar repeal in India. Such comments ignore the fact that the balance between unfettered right to speak and the necessity of national security is clearly affected by historical events and cannot be viewed in vacuum ignoring the effect national and international developments on the political atmosphere in the country. The conditions prevailing in India mandate retention of the offence of sedition notwithstanding the repeal in the UK.

It is next said that “sedition” was not included in Clause (2) of Article 19 – a fact mentioned by Mr Nariman in a recent article. The reason for its exclusion was the expansive interpretation put on the section by the Privy Council which at the time the Constitution was enacted was the law but which is no longer the law now. In any event the Supreme Court itself has held that the prosecution for sedition is “in the interest of public order” and “public order” was added to Clause(2) of Article 19 by the First Amendment.

Finally Balwant Singh’s case is relied upon for suggesting one can raise anti-India slogans and yet not be prosecuted for sedition. In so doing those relying on Balwant Singh confuse the findings peculiar to that case with the law it declared. The approach is flawed because what is binding in a judgment is the law it declares and not the conclusion it reaches. And in declaring the law the Supreme Court in Balwant Singh’s case applied literal interpretation of Section 124A (not limited by purpose or mischief of the provision) to hold that the application of the offence of sedition will be attracted “when the accused brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India, by words either written or spoken or visible signs or representations.” The Court therefore expanded the reach of Section 124A. And the only reason it did not hold the accused guilty in that case was because the slogans were raised by a lone individual that too only a couple of times and evoked no response.

Uninformed criticism has little evaluative merit and no social purpose. Public discourse to be meaningful must be educated. It can otherwise lead to complete irrationality and would violate of Laws of Thoughts, the axiomatic rules on which rational discourse is based.

Sedition decoded Sorabjee Style!

Indian Express reported Mr Soli Sorabjee describing the JNU President’s arrest “deplorable”. It is interesting to read the reasons for his opinion. I found them incongruous.

In the existing scheme of things the presumption is I am wrong (and prejudiced) in not condemning the arrest. I therefore read the comments again but unfortunately(?) it only confirmed my original opinion (which makes me rabidly communal, casteist and unpatriotic?). Please judge for yourself.

Mr Sorabjee said, “What did he do? Did he merely shout slogans like Pakistan zindabad? arresting him for that? I mean thats deplorable”! The “he” incidentally is an Indian citizen, and the comment appears to suggest that it is right for any Indian to shout Pakistan Zindabad and acting against him outrages any sensible Indian’s (like Mr Sorabjee’s) sensibilities. I realised I do not fit the category of a sensible Indian because I cannot shout Pakistan Zindabad nor accept its being shouted in my presence or find any restraint on the shouting “deplorable.”

The comment which follows makes the situation clearer still (or does it?) and fills me with self-loathing. Mr Sorabjee next says “Even if you say Hindustan murdabad its a boderline case since these words have the tendency to create a law and order problem.” Thus even Mr Sorabjee agrees that where there is a tendency to create a law an order problem we may consider making the act criminal; of-course, in his opinion, there will be no law and order problem if you shout Pakistan Zindabad(as it is not a “borderline case” like Hindustan Murdabad but a clearly a non-issue)  – and an acceptable war cry of any Indian! I now realise that apart from not being sensible enough to know there cannot possibly be a law and order problem if Pakistan Zindabad is shouted, I am not patriotic enough to shout it or tolerate its being shouted.

Anyway coming back to Mr Sorabjee. He is sure that Pakistan zindabad is not sedition but he is not sure if Hindustan murdabad is sedition. This creates a piquant situation but only for a stupid, irrational, unwise and unpatriotic a person like me. Please consider the consequences. An Indian (according to Mr Sorabjee) is immune against action if he shouts Pakistan Zindabad but if he shouts Hindustan Murdabad its impropriety needs to be debated. And debate is protected! But if debate is protected how can that which is being debated (Hindustan Murdabad) be the cause of arrest? Arrest thus will be unwarranted in both cases whether you shout Pakistan Zindabad or Hindustan Murdabad! Indians can thus travel the length and breadth of the country either shouting Pakistan Zindabad or Hindustan Murdabad. Here comes the catch. If I protest against either I am liable to be arrested for objecting to legitimate political action. Hence I am not just not sensible or not patriotic but I am a criminal in addition uneducated in basic constitutional values!!

Why then make any distinction between the two? Thats the point. It shows the offence of sedition should not be on the statute book! It is indeed pointless. Pakistan Zindabad Hindustan Murdabad is acceptable political discourse and truly legitimate.

And dare I object. “We should take things”, said Mr Sorabjee, “in the right perspective” and not “overreact”. My reaction to Pakistan Zindabad and Hindustan Murdabad will always be an “overreaction” because I lack the “right perspective” to tolerate it. So my mind-set is bad and my way of looking at things wrong. I am communal, irrational and unpatriotic and need to be punished for such deviance. I am after all an Indian who will never shout Pakistan Zindabad or Hindustan Murdabad.