Siddique Kappan, a Malayalee journalist, left the national capital to visit the family of a Dalit girl who was sexually assaulted and killed by the upper castes in the village of Hathras, just 200 km away. Usually everyone would speak well of journalists who go directly to report nevertheless the covid crisis, without having to rely on other sources. However, the Uttar Pradesh police 'honoured' the journalist with the charges of treason under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. The immediate action was taken on the assumption that the Chief Minister would become an exception to his claims of ensuring law and order and public safety in the state. Stan Swamy, a Jesuit priest who had been campaigning for education and empowerment among tribal communities for decades, was charged with treason for questioning the Jharkhand government's failure to implement the Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, which was envisioned to ensure a dignified life for the tribal community. Eventually, he died in the trap. Disha Ravi, a Keralite environmental activist, was charged with sedition for disseminating a 'toolkit' containing information and writings in support of farmers protesting against controversial farm laws.
The sorry situation of being branded as anti-national looms over any stance against the interest of the government including criticizing its discriminatory policies, opposing the arrival of the destructive Kudankulam nuclear power plant and even a social media post wishing peace in both the nation and the neigbouring country. Like the young man and his mother who were imprisoned for preaching peace in the story 'Have you seen that little jungle goddess' written by the beloved Malayalam writer Lalithambika Antarjanam, hundreds of young people and their mothers who had spoken and campaigned against atrocities, hatred and communalism in the world's largest democratic country have been trapped in sedition charges. In the face of such an unfortunate situation, an order has been issued by the Supreme Court of the country. The bench, headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana, has asked the Central and state governments to stay the proceedings on the 152-year-old grossly unjust treason Act. Those currently incarcerated under this law are also allowed to approach the courts for bail.
Despite the fact that this law has been most misused since the Narendra Modi government came to power at the Centre, the Central Government had informed the Supreme Court that it was ready to re-examine the sedition law. But the government has not digested the court's decision to freeze the sedition law. Solicitor General Thushar Mehta, who appeared for the government in court, tried his best till the last minute to dig his heels in but to no avail. Union Law Minister Kiran Rijiju's statement that the court should not transgress the 'lakshman rekha' effuses the Centre's intransigence. Despite the court's direction, it cannot be ruled out that the government will not seek shortcuts to settle scores with activists, and organizations. The Court's intervention might delight every human who values freedom of speech and wants India to remain a democracy, despite all its limitations.
Social activists advocating the rights of tribals and the oppressed, journalists exposing the failings of the government, and students taking to the streets for citizenship are not doing so not out of hostility toward the country. Those in power should realise the fact that activists do so from the innate desire to ensure the fruits of equality and air of freedom to their fellow human beings too. It also stems from their deep love for the idea of India. May the Supreme Court order and the re-examination of sedition law by the Central Government pave the way for India to become democratically empowered in a world order full of challenges and conflicts.