Editor: Vishal Kumar
On 8 October, RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat during his Vijaya Dashami address in Nagpur remarked that lynching was a 'western construct'. On the same day over 1,500 prominent individuals endorsed the letter by 49 public figures who were slapped with sedition charges on 4 October for expressing concern over rising instances of mob lynchings in India.
Those charged with sedition include film makers Aparna Sen, Mani Ratnam, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Anurag Kashyap and historian Ramachandra Guha among others.
The Quint reached out to six of the signatories who came out in support of those accused of acts of sedition.
However, a question all the signaories raised was regarding the use of colonial-era sedition laws in an independent democracy.
Scrap Sedition Laws ?
“It’s a law that punished Bal Gangadhar Tilak. It punished Mahatma Gandhi. Such laws cannot exist in a democracy but the governments find it very useful and so they’re not very keen to do away with it.”S Irfan Habib, Historian
“It was used by the colonial government against our nationalist leaders. So, today the independent government is using it against its own citizens,” Habib added.
Sedition Case An Indirect Warning
Late on 9 October, however, the 49 celebrities were cleared of sedition. Many see the episode as an indirect warning to stay silent on socio-political issues in the future.
Carnatic music vocalist TM Krishna told The Quint that ' the magistrate who accepted the case should be asked very serious questions.’
You can listen to TM Krishna’s complete take on the issue of mob lynchings, sedition charges and Mohan Bhagwat’s remark on lynchings being used to ‘defame’ the country.
“But the way it’s being utilised is not just intimidating it follows a pattern. A pattern of public-private partnership of terror.”Jawhar Sircar, retired IAS and former CEO, Prasar Bharati
“This FIR lodged against 49 people was like a warning signal of sort to not speak out against the Kashmir situation,” said Abha Dev Habib, professor of physics at Miranda College, New Delhi.
‘Bhagwat Trying to Negate The Truth’
Historian Habib asked whether giving it another name would alleviate the pain and suffering caused by lynching related violence. He said he saw the remark as a diversionary tactic.
“The politics is to keep people polarised and keep people on the boil the country on the boil. So, that is how they want it. In that context they need to tell people 'Ok carry on what you are doing. But we will just call it western',” Habib told The Quint.
“Mr Bhagwat is purposely trying to create a narrative and almost negate the truth that people are being lynched. People from the Dalit community and the Islamic community are being lynched in this country.”TM Krishna, Carnatic music vocalist
At a time when – since 2015 – 111 have been killed in incidents of mob lynching and those raising concerns on lynchings were slapped with sedition charges, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat claimed 'lynching' is a 'western construct' being used to defame the country.
Writer Githa Hariharan’s Statement to The Quint
Author Githa Hariharan, a member of the Indian Cultural Forum, who coordinated with signatories, shared her thoughts on sedition and its misuse with The Quint. Here’s the full text of her statement.
“As of 10 October, more than a thousand people have endorsed the letter from 49 respected citizens to the PM. We have people from groups in Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan; we have people who have written directly to the Indian Cultural Forum in support of our statement.
Let me tell you why this is happening. Why it must happen.
The letter to the PM raises the horror of mob lynching in our midst – lynching aimed at Muslims and Dalits. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has said yesterday that lynching is not “Indian”. What are we seeing then, when we see the evidence of videos and images –often provided by the perpetrators themselves?
Lynching, says Bhagwat, is being used to defame Hindus. Lynching, we say, is being used to kill human beings. Lynching, Bhagwat says, is being used to defame India. Lynching, we say, is being used to kill our citizens. To warn certain sections of our people that they are no longer equal citizens.
The letter also raises important issues of atrocities against citizens on the basis of caste. We join our voices to this indictment – of the continuing failure to end the violence and discrimination built into the caste system.
The letter questions the misuse of religion to harass or terrorise citizens – by forcing them, for example, to say Jai Sri Ram, as if that is any measure of a good, law-abiding citizen. We agree with the letter: we respect every person's constitutional right to worship. What we question is the use of pseudo-religious zeal that violates other citizens' rights.
There are more signatories coming in even as we speak: voices from across the country, speaking in many languages, endorsing the letter. These are diverse voices asking that we end the misuse of courts to harass people.
They are asking for an end to the use of a colonial law like sedition to silence people. They are asking for a halt to the process of killing democracy with the plan for Hindu supremacy.
Most of all, they are saying to the government, the courts, and their fellow citizens: We need our democracy to survive as a nation, to live as people. This democracy we want has nothing to do with the exclusionary project of one religion, one language, one nation. This democracy we insist on has everything to do with equality, diversity, and freedom of speech.”
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