‘Free Speech’: Reserved Only for the Right-Wing?

The state apparatus slaps draconian laws like sedition and UAPA for the exercise of ‘free speech’ that opposes the fascist agenda while the hate speech against vulnerable and minority communities continues unchecked.

Image courtesy: The Economist

The recent FIR lodged against JNU student, Sajid Bin Sayed, for his tweet on Kashmir is the latest instance of the right wing’s repression of free speech. This is one of the many cases where students and activists who have raised the concerns of marginalised groups have been targeted and arrested. In a majority of these instances, FIRs have been filed against the students or activists on the basis of complaints made by BJP members.

Ironically, people who have expressed solidarity with minority groups have been charged with instigating communal tensions and promoting breach of peace, while no action has been taken against politicians who have explicitly encouraged violence.

The Delhi police registered an FIR earlier this month against Sajid Bin Sayed, a scholar at JNU, for his tweets on Kashmir which allegedly defame the Indian Army and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Sayed had tweeted: “Indian Military execute systematic genocide of Kashmiris which is devised by RSS. The BJP govt should stop their territorial greed and be ready to accept Kashmiris’ right to self-determination guaranteed by UN. It’s high time to intervene in the issue by international bodies. #Kashmir”.

He had highlighted some facts which the right-wing does not like to hear:“Kashmir is the most militarised place in the globe where human rights violations mountain every other day. The government plots ethnic cleansing in Kashmir like illegal state Zionist Israel executes in Palestine but still they couldn’t succeed as they dream”, Sayed wrote. The claims of Kashmir being the most militarized place in the world, along with the parallel between Kashmir and Palestine, are based on undeniable material facts and have been long recognized by actors all over the world.

Of course, this is not the first time that those who have been vocal about Kashmir have been targeted by the state. In January, Nalini Balakumar, a student, was charged with sedition for holding a ‘Free Kashmir’ poster at an anti-CAA protest in Mysore University. Similarly, the Mumbai police also had launched an investigation against a woman who held a ‘Free Kashmir’ placard at a protest at the Gateway of India. The police took cognizance of this after BJP politicians Devendra Fadnavis and Kirit Somaiya raised strong objections to such ‘separatist’ views.

In the recent incident too, Sayed has been accused of “provocation with an intent to cause a riot” and “provoking a breach of peace” for making the above statements on Twitter after a BJP employee, Tajinder Yadav complained.

Tajinder Yadav is the general secretary, Mehrauli district of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, BJP’s youth wing. Yadav himself stated that “the police have been helpful in taking down my complaint and quickly registering a case”.

This is in direct contrast to the delayed response and inaction of the police against BJP leaders like Union Minister Anurag Thakur, who have made statements which are much more explicitly incendiary. In the backdrop of the anti-CAA protests at the beginning of the year, Anurag Thakur, while campaigning for the Delhi elections had raised slogans saying; “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro… (shoot the traitors)”. However, no significant action has been taken against him for inciting violence.

Similarly, one day before the North-East Delhi communal violence broke out, BJP leader Kapil Mishra had made hate speeches while addressing a rally of pro-CAA supporters. With the Deputy Commissioner of Police standing right beside him, Mishra threatened: “DCP is with us. I’m making one thing clear on all our behalf—we will hold our peace until Trump leaves. After that, if roads are not cleared out, we won’t even listen to you [police]… we’ll have to hit the streets”.

Despite this direct provocation and the subsequent violence which it triggered, no action has been taken by the police against Kapil Mishra. Yet, students and activists have been arrested for posts on social media which have not triggered or encouraged any unlawful activities.

In one of the most glaring instances of such skewed punishment for ‘free speech’, a children’s school in Bidar was charged for sedition when it staged a play which was critical of the CAA and which allegedly made “objectionable” remarks on Prime Minister Modi. After a local ABVP member Neelesh Rakshyala filed a complaint with the Bidar police, two Muslim women (a student’s mother and a school teacher) were arrested and jailed for “allowing the play”. Even the children were intimidated by the police, with over 85 children of the school being repeatedly interrogated by the police.

The high degree of concern shown by the police over a school play is disproportionate to their lack of attention towards the explicitly incendiary and provocative statements made by BJP members and other right-wing elements. Such contrasting treatment of the exercise of ‘free speech’ shows that only certain types of speech that oppose the fascist agenda are being punished under the law while other forms of hate speech against vulnerable and minority communities continue unchecked.

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