Rights activists flay State for slapping sedition charges on protesters

Coming down heavily on the State machinery for invoking penal provisions related to sedition against those who organise protests in a democratic and peaceful manner, advocates and human rights activists on Friday stressed the need for safeguarding the rights guaranteed in the Constitution.

Senior advocate R. Vaigai said though sovereignty as a concept dated back to the days of monarchy, the mindset of the government had not changed even after the country became a republic with the advent of the Constitution in 1950.

Addressing a meeting organised by ‘Poovulagin Nanbargal' and Campaign for Justice and Peace-Tamil Nadu, she said sovereignty as a concept could not coexist with democracy when it was used by a government against its own people.

‘Colonial mindset'

Explaining how the colonial mindset continued to overshadow our legal system, she said the “good faith clause” is a point in case.

“Even the courts have not realised this and there is a presumption that administrative action is right,” she said, pointing out how Section 144 of Cr.P.C. was invoked in Radhapuram taluk in Tirunelveli without informing the local people.

Ms. Vaigai also said how fundamental rights had been reduced to fundamental restrictions. Even though fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19(1) of the Constitution were subject to reasonable restrictions, there was no reason to override the freedom of speech altogether and invoke sedition clauses against protesters.

Usha Ramanathan, Fellow at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies, said that in India, the idea of absolute power had been linked with the idea of sovereignty.

Pointing out how the “idea of an outsider,” which came from the World Bank, was being used to invoke sedition law, she said the objective was to keep the victims alone and prevent more powerful persons from entering the scene in their support.

She said the Official Secrets Act remained unchanged even after the enactment of the Right to Information Act.

“In the case of atomic energy, law itself keeps all information out of our reach,” she said.

Bhopal tragedy survivors' leader Balkrishna Namdeo and Madhumita Dutta of Campaign for Justice and Peace-Tamil Nadu also spoke on the subject.

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