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A Roar of a Lion- Right to free speech, Right to Dissent, Sedition and Majoritarianism

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Justice Deepak Gupta's Fearless Speech 2

Of Roaring Lions and Squeaking Mice!

Francis Bacon had once described the judges as ‘Lions under the throne.”However decades later in the famous Second World War case of Liversidge v Anderson, where Lord Atkin delivered his powerful dissenting speech, he commented on the arguments of the lawyers and stated that this level of reasoning would have been acceptable to the Court of Kings Bench in the time of Charles I (a monarchy) but not in a democracy, sadly this reasoning was accepted by all of his brother judges. The subjective interpretation adopted by his brother judges who were then pleasing to politicians provoked a letter to Lord Atkin from Mr Justice Wintringham Stable. The letter expressed approval of Lord Atkin’s dissent, and then added:

“I venture to think the decision of the House of Lords has reduced the stature of the judiciary, with consequences that the nation will one day bitterly regret. Bacon, I think, said the judges were the Lions under the throne, but the House of Lords has reduced us to mice squeaking under a chair.

The time is right to celebrate the courage shown by one of our very own, Justice Deepak Gupta, who has roared like a lion in times where just speaking against the ruling Governments would amount to sounding of the death knell for some. In times where we have judgments after judgments trying to bypass the constitution in novel ways so that the mighty and the powerful may not get offended (remember the dissent of Justice Chanderchud where he talks of a fraud played on the constitution and present grant of adjournments in habeas corpus petitions in SC), in times where police is more active in catching hold of people who have written something on their facebook wall or WhatsApp (under an extinct provision of Section 66A) rather than looking for rapists and murderers, in times where a lawyer if he knows the politician he becomes a judge or an advocate general, in times where dissatisfaction with the government will brand you as an anti-national, in times where freedom of speech is being attacked across the country and fight for human rights and civil liberties is undermined in every nook and corner, a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, and our very own, ‘son of the soil’ has had the spine to publically say THE TIMELESS TRUTH of our democracy.

The Hon’ble Judge expressed himself On September 7. The following are edited excerpts of his lecture.

Right to Dissent

There cannot be any democratic polity where the citizens do not have the right to think as they like, express their thoughts, have their own beliefs and faith, and worship in a manner which they feel like.

The right to freedom of opinion and the right of freedom of conscience by themselves include the extremely important right to disagree.

Thus, the right to dissent is one of the most important rights guaranteed by our Constitution. As long as a person does not break the law or encourage strife, he has a right to differ from every other citizen and those in power and propagate what he believes is his belief.

Every society has its own rules and over a period of time when people only stick to the age-old rules and conventions, society degenerates. New thinkers are born when they disagree with the well-accepted norms of society. If everybody follows the well-trodden path, no new paths will be created, no new explorations will be done and no new vistas will be found. If a person does not ask questions and does not raise issues questioning age-old systems, no new systems would develop and the horizons of the mind will not expand.

Whether Buddha, Mahavira, Jesus Christ, Prophet Mohammad, Guru Nanak Dev, Martin Luther, Kabir, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Karl Marx or Mahatma Gandhi, new thoughts and religious practices would not have been established, if they had quietly submitted to the views of their forefathers and not questioned the existing religious practices, beliefs and rituals.

In a secular country, every belief does not have to be religious. Even atheists enjoy equal rights under the Constitution. Whether one is a believer, an agnostic or an atheist, one enjoys complete freedom of belief and conscience under our Constitution. There can be no impediments on the aforesaid rights except those permitted by the Constitution.

The judgment of HR Khanna, J. in A.D.M. Jabalpur case, is a shining example of a dissent which is much more valuable than the opinion of the majority. This was a judgment delivered by a fearless, incorruptible Judge. Judges are administered oath wherein they swear or affirm to perform the duties to the best of their ability without fear or favour, affection or ill will. First and foremost part of the duty is to do one’s duty without fear.

Law of Sedition

It was enacted at a time when India was ruled by a foreign imperialist colonizing power. The British brooked no opposition and did not want to listen to any criticism. Their sole aim was to deprive the people of this country of their rights including the right to express their views.

Interestingly, though sedition was an offence in the first draft of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) drafted by Lord Macaulay, somehow this did not find its way into the IPC when it was enacted in the year 1860. The IPC was amended in the year 1898 when Section 124A was introduced.

When Section 124A was first introduced, we were told that this provision was not to curb legitimate dissent but was to be used only when the writer or the speaker directly or indirectly suggested or intended to produce the use of force.

Interestingly, another reason given was that there was a Wahabi conspiracy by a man who had preached Jihad or holy war against Christians in India and therefore the need to introduce such a provision.

Though Section 124A was inserted for fear of Muslim preachers advocating Jihad or religious war, it was initially used against Hindu leaders. The first such case was of Jogendera Chunder Bose wherein in a newspaper called Bangobasi, the Editor objected to the English rulers raising the age of consent of sexual intercourse for Indian girls from 10 to 12 years.

Subsequently, the British used the law of sedition to curb any demand for independence said Gupta citing the case of Queen Empress v. Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

I would also like to refer to the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi, who in this city of Ahmedabad was charged with sedition. Appearing before Sessions Judge Broomfield, Mahatma Gandhi while dealing with the word ‘disaffection’ had this to say: “Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. If one has no affection for a person or system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote or incite to violence.”

I think this brilliantly sums up what I want to say today that mere criticism without incitement to violence would not amount to sedition. However, the Mahatma was sentenced to undergo imprisonment for 6 years.

You cannot force people to have affection for the government and merely because people have disaffection or strongly disagree with the views of the Government or express their disagreement in strong words, no sedition is made out unless they or their words promote or incite or tend to promote or incite violence and endanger public order.

However, in present times there is no healthy discussion but only shouting and slanging matches, lamented Justice Gupta. If one does not agree with another, that person becomes an anti-nationalist.

There is no advocacy on principles and issues. There are only shouting and slanging matches. Unfortunately, the common refrain is either you agree with me or you are my enemy, or worse, an enemy of the nation, an anti-nationalist.

The constitutional validity of Section 124A has to be read in the context of Article 19 of the Constitution of India. Thus, advocating any new cause however unpopular or uncomfortable it may be to the powers that be, it must be permitted.

Sedition can arise only against a government established by law. Government is an institution, a body and not a person. Criticism of persons cannot be equated with criticism of the government….Criticism of senior functionaries may amount to defamation for which they can take action in accordance with law but this will definitely not amount to sedition or creating disharmony.

Police cannot deal with law and order problems but have time for sedition

Majoritarianism Can’t be Law

During the dark days of Emergency, an attempt was made by one party President to equate his leader with the country. I am sure that no one will ever try in future to equate a personality with this country of ours which is much bigger than any individual.

A majority government does not mean that minority voices should not be heard. Majoritarianism cannot be the law. Even the minority has the right to express its views. We must also remember that in India we follow the first past the post principle. Besides, he also stated that even Governments which come in with a huge majority do not get 50% of the votes. Therefore, though they are entitled to govern or be called as the majority, it cannot be said that they represent the voice of all the people.

The police always claim to be short of forces when questioned about the adverse law and order situation in various parts of the country. Trials in criminal cases of rape, murder and crimes falling under POCSO carry on for years on end because police officials do not have time to even depose before the courts but when it comes to sedition or Section 153A or implementing the provisions of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act (which has been declared unconstitutional), there seems to be no shortage of manpower and the police acts with great alacrity.

It is, thus, clear that there is one set of rules for the rich and the powerful and another set of rules for the ordinary citizens of the country. In a country which professes to live by rule of law, this cannot be permitted.

Thus, the law of sedition is more often abused and misused and the people who criticise those in power are arrested by police officials on the asking of those in power and even if a person may get bail the next day from the court, he has suffered the ignominy of being sent to jail. The manner in which the provisions of Section 124A are being misused, begs the question as to whether we should have a relook at it. Freedom of expression being a constitutional right must get primacy over laws of sedition. Sedition is a crime only when there is an incitement to violence or public disorder.

But the law as laid down in Kedar Nath Singh’s case regarding sedition is not being followed.

‘Right to Criticise Government’

I think our country, our Constitution and our national emblems are strong enough to stand on their own shoulders without the aid of the law of sedition. You may force or compel a person to stand while the National Anthem is being sung, but you cannot compel him within his heart to have respect for the same. How does one judge what is inside a person’s mind or in his heart?

In Chhattisgarh, a 53 years old man was arrested on charges of sedition for allegedly spreading rumours over social media about power cuts in the State. It was said that this was done to tarnish the image of the then Government running the State. The charge was absurd and again highlights the misuse of power. In Manipur, a journalist made a vituperative attack on the Chief Minister of the State and used totally unparliamentary language against the Prime Minister of the country. The language was intemperate and uncalled for but this was not a case of sedition.

Criticism of government by itself cannot amount to sedition. India is a powerful nation, loved by its citizens. We are proud to be Indians. We, however, have the right to criticise the Government. Criticism of the Government by itself cannot amount to sedition. In a country which is governed by the rule of law and which guarantees freedom of speech, expression and belief to its citizens, the misuse of the law of sedition and other similar laws is against the very spirit of freedom for which the freedom fighters fought and gave up their lives.

The shoulders of those in power who govern should be broad enough to accept criticism. Their thinking should be wide enough to accept the fact that there can be another point of view. Criticism of the policies of the government is not sedition unless there is a call for public disorder or incitement to violence. The people in power must develop thick skins. They cannot be oversensitive to people who make fun of them. In a free country, people have the right to express their views.

Everybody may not use temperate or civilised language. If intemperate, uncivilised and defamatory language is used, then the remedy is to file proceedings for defamation but not prosecute the persons for sedition or creating disharmony.

Judiciary Not Above Criticism

In fact, I welcome criticism of the judiciary because only if there is criticism, will there be an improvement. Not only should there be criticism but there must be introspection. When we introspect, we will find that many decisions taken by us need to be corrected.

Criticism of the executive, the judiciary, the bureaucracy or the Armed Forces cannot be termed sedition. In case we attempt to stifle criticism of the institutions whether it be the legislature, the executive or the judiciary or other bodies of the State, we shall become a police State instead of a democracy and this the founding fathers never expected this country to be.

Section 66A of the IT Act, which put restrictions on the freedom of expression in an online space, is still being used by the lower judiciary and the police, even after being struck down in the Shreya Singhal case.

It does not speak well of the Indian judiciary that the magistrates are unaware of the law of land, and day in and day out, we hear of magistrates granting judicial custody or police remand in relation to such offences.

Cyber Bullying

The recent trends have instilled fear in people when it comes to expressing their opinions on criticising governments in power. A very important aspect of a democracy is that the citizens should have no fear of the government. They should not be scared of expressing views which may not be liked by those in power. No doubt, the views must be expressed in a civilised manner without inciting violence but a mere expression of such views cannot be a crime and should not be held against the citizens.

No doubt, the views must be expressed in a civilised manner without inciting violence but a mere expression of such views cannot be a crime and should not be held against the citizens. The world would be a much better place to live if people could express their opinions fearlessly without being scared of prosecutions or trolling on social media. It is indeed sad that one of our celebrities had to withdraw from social media because he and his family members were trolled or threatened of dire consequences.

‘Nationalism is a Great Menace’

Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore had a view on nationalism, which is the anti-thesis of the view which many of us have. He, in fact, had not appreciated the Satyagrah movement. He, who wrote the National Anthem also held the view that ―nationalism is a great menace. I do not agree with those views nor did eminent leaders of that time but this did not make Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore less an Indian, less a patriot than any of his contemporaries. Merely because a person does not agree with the Government in power or is virulently critical of the Government in power, does not make him any less a patriot than those in power. In today‘s world, if any person was to say ―nationalism is a great menaceǁ he may well be charged with sedition.

If this country is to progress not only in the field of commerce and industry but to progress in the field of human rights and be a shining example of an effective, vibrant democracy then the voice of the people can never be stifled. I can do no better than quote the words of Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore:

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,

Where knowledge is free.

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls.

Where words come out from the depth of truth,

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection.

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary deserts and of dead habit.

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action.

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”

Deven Khanna is a Lawyer, practicing at High Court of Himachal Pradesh, other H.P Courts/Tribunals and the Supreme Court of India, he is an alumnus of a National Law School. For any queries related to the articles, he can be contacted at 7018469792 or at [email protected] The personal blog is at https://lawumbrella.wordpress.com/

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Rs. 1 Crore to HP Police Department for PPE and N95 Masks

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HP Police PPE kits and masks

Shimla-Himachal Pradesh Government on Saturday sanctioned rupees one crore (Rs. 50 lakhs from HP COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund and Rs. 50 lakhs from State Disaster Response Fund) to Police Department for purchase of high-risk Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits and N-95 masks for police personnel of the State in the wake of pandemic COVID-19.

HPSEB Contributed 1.97 crore Towards Chief Minister Relief Fund

On behalf of officers and officials of H.P. State Electricity Board Limited, the Chairman of the Board, Ram Subhag Singh, contributed Rs. 1.97 crore towards Chief Minister Relief Fund on Saturday.

Chief Minister again made a fervent appeal to the people for the generous donation towards this Fund so that needy people could be benefited.

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17 People of Himachal Visited COVID-19 Hotspot Nizamuddin in Delhi: HP Govt

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Himachali's at Nizamuddin, Delhi

Shimla-Himachal Pradesh Government on Tuesday confirmed that as many as 17 people of the State were on the religious congregation at Delhi Nijamuddeen. All of them are under 14 days surveillance of Delhi Government at New Delhi and till now they have no symptoms of COVID-19.

These persons belong to Chamba, Sirmaur, and Kullu districts.

This large religious gathering at Delhi’s Nizamuddin has emerged as a virus hotspot with links to seven COVID-19 deaths. Among those who had attended the gathering, 50 have tested positive in Tamil Nadu, 24 in Delhi, 21 in Telangana, 18 in Andhra Pradesh, 10 in Andamans and one each in Assam and Kashmir after attending the gathering. 

Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) shared details of foreign and Indian Tabhlig Jamaat (TJ) workers in India with all States on March 21, 2020, after COVID-19 positive cases among these workers surfaced in Telangana.

All the Tabligh Jamaat workers staying at Hazrat Nizamuddin Markaz are being medically screened since March 26. So far, 1203 Tabligh Jamaat workers have been medically screened.  Over 300 of them had symptoms of COVID-19 and were referred to different hospitals in Delhi.

Various nationals, particularly from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Kyrgyzstan had come for Tabligh activities.

Meanwhile, So far, 1339 Tabligh Jamaat workers have been shifted to Narela, Sultanpuri and Bakkarwala quarantine facilities as well as to LNJP, RGSS, GTB, DDU Hospitals and AllMS, Jhajjar. Rest of them are being currently medically screened for COVID-19 infections. No new case has been reported in Himachal. 

Usually, all the foreign nationals visiting India as a part of Tabligh team come on the strength of a tourist visa. MHA had already issued guidelines that they should not indulge in missionary work on a tourist visa. State Police would be examining categories of visas of all these foreign TJ workers and take further action in case of violation of visa conditions.

BACKGROUND

Tabligh Jamaat Headquarter (Markaz) is located in Nizamuddin, Delhi. Devout Muslims from across the country and also from foreign countries visit the Markaz for religious purpose. Some also move out in groups to different parts of the country for Tabligh activities. This is a continuous process throughout the year.

On March 21, approximately 824 foreign Tabligh Jamaat workers were in different parts of the country for missionary work. Besides, around 216 foreign nationals were staying in the Markaz. Besides, over 1500 Indian TJ workers were also staying in the Markaz while around 2100 Indian TJ workers were touring different parts of the country for missionary work. Since March 23, the lockdown has been strictly imposed by State authorities/police across Delhi including in and around Nizamuddin and Tabligh work came to a halt.

As of now, nearly 1400 confirmed cases and 35 deaths have been reported. During the last 24 hours, 227 new confirmed cases and 3 new deaths have been reported.

 

 

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Pandemic – ‘Nationwide Lock-down’ A Tale of Caution & Hope

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Curfew Relaxation in Himachal Pradesh 3

Shimla-It’s for the first time in the history of our planet that the entire Humankind is together and is focused on fighting with one problem.

In India, from many days Doctors have been coming out and demanding a nationwide lockdown fearing the wrath of the virus which has been raging hell all across the world. The State has now responded and has ordered a 21-day lockdown for the entire nation, which is an unprecedented move.

The Lockdown is an extreme step which is demanded by these extraordinary circumstances. And as expected it has and will continue to have a huge impact on the economic health of the country. It has paralysed virtually all commerce and has put millions of people out of work, leaving many struggling with basic requirements like food and medicines. This has caused much debate in the media and elsewhere that whether we are ‘over-reacting’ to the coronavirus outbreak?

In this post, the author argues that the present step of a ‘National Lockdown’ is the most efficient and only available first response which the Government could have taken to tackle the immediate and ongoing existential crisis.

The viability of measures is to be seen through the lens of precaution and what might be the risk to reward outcome of the decision. The ‘precautionary principle’ which has had its evolution through various judgments of our Supreme Court ultimately boils down to an understanding that “if one is bound to err then always err on the side of minimising the risk and the scale of catastrophic harm than to take high-risk measures for immediate gains”.

The question which has arisen for consideration is,  ‘what is at stake by acting too strongly versus what is at stake by acting too weakly?.

The answer, when we think about it with any seriousness, is that too strong action will more quickly reduce wealth and economic activity; whereas too weak action could put crores of lives at stake across the country, and a far greater economic impact will await us down the line.

It is here then that the value judgments behind political decisions about pandemics come into full light. Are we willing to risk economic potency, or are we willing to risk our neighbours, friends, and elders’ lives? The United States and the United Kingdom who have not still imposed a complete nationwide lockdown and are also planning to lift the partial lockdown at the time of Easter (as announced by President Trump) have obviously given a very feeble response and have given considerable weightage to their economy rather than their people. India has chosen to completely focus on its people.

Precautionary Principle 

The Global pandemic and nature of this virus is a powerful reason for aggressively employing the Precautionary Principle to reduce our collective exposure to this deadly virus, an exposure which is grave.

It is hoped that a strong regulatory action which includes measures of forced quarantine, curfew and nation-wide lockdowns, (reduction of public transport/movement/contact) throughout the country would go some way towards lowering contagion even if not completely getting rid of it.

The basic point is that we need to consider the viability of measures through the lens of precaution, and always err on the side of minimising the risk and scale of catastrophic harm. We should be willing to make huge economic sacrifices. So that many of our fellow citizens don’t have their very lives sacrificed at the altar of ‘economic growth’.

The individual choices that we are all facing over the coming months should also be shaped by precaution. We need to be aware that passing this virus to others can create huge contagion cascades that infect thousands of people. It is only by taking pronounced physical distancing steps as early on as possible can we ensure that we are not fueling the wildfire of this pandemic. For many, this may mean a lonely few months, but that is by far a worthwhile price to pay to reduce the scale of this catastrophe.

A Caution- Listen to The Cry of the Poor and Homeless

Though the step by the Government of Lock-down is commendable, there are certain extremely important issues to be kept in mind.

Our country is home to the largest undernourished population in the world. It ranks 102 in the Global Hunger Index, has 1 in 5 people living on less than Rs.150 per day. We have the largest number of street children!

We need an Economic Task Force and a distribution strategy for the supply of essential commodities to the needy.

With the massive outbreak of COVID-19 across the country, there is a *huge and urgent* need of ration and other supplies for daily wage workers, workers in the informal sector as well as masks for doctors and nurses at the frontline.

There have been some announcements which have been made by the State to tackle the above situation such as:

  •  Pradhanmantri Garib Kalyan Yojana – Rs. 1,70,000 crore (Rs. 1.7 trillion) package for poor stuck in lockdown Rs. 50 lakhs insurance cover for health workers in Covid 2019 front.
  •  Pradhanmantri Ann Yojana – 800 Mn people will get additional free 5 kg wheat/Rice and 1 kg, Dal, for 3 months from ration
  • Farmers will get upfront Rs. 2,000 in their account directly
  •  MNREGA – Daily wages increased from Rs. 182 to Rs. 202. Rs 2,000 per worker will be an additional income.
  •  Old Age peoples – Poor senior citizen/widow / handicapped will get additional Rs. 1,000/pm for another 3 months.
  • Mahila Jan Dhan Account – Women will get additional Rs. 500/pm for another 3 months
  • Ujjwala Yojana – Below Poverty Level family will get free LPG cylinder for next 3 months
  •  Up to 20 lakh collateral-free loans for the SHGs from earlier 10 lakh crore cap
  • For organised sector employee and others who earn below Rs. 15,000 salary, Government will pay 12% + 12% provident fund (contribution of employee and employer) under EPF for the next 3 months.
  • EPFO regulations will be amended to allow workers under EPFO to draw up to 75% of their non-refundable advance or 3 months of wages, whichever is lower.
  •  State governments to be directed to utilise an existing Rs 31,000 crore welfare fund for the benefit for 3.5 crore construction workers

Hope & Love

Hope now is that the underprivileged will continue to receive help not only from the Government but also from the super-rich and the various religious institutions that India is so infested by and is proud of. If there was any time for religious institutions to shine this is exactly that time.

We live in a world where infinite money is printed to support corporations and banks and millions are donated to ‘Gods and Godmen’, at the same time nakedly excluding the millions homeless, who are left scrounging for their next meal. India can break this vicious cycle and take steps here out of compassion and empathy. India, the oldest civilization of the world can lead the world and show the light of ‘reason & love’ in its civilized response to the present existential crisis.

There is nothing we can do to change the constraints of our existence. Heartbreak and death await us all one day. As  Albert Camus once said;

 Love is not just a confrontation with the absurdity of the world; it is a refusal to be broken by it.  It is our choice whether we shrink from the slings and arrows of fate, or whether we stand in the full light of the sun while it shines above us.

India! its time to stand at a “physical distance” but stand Together.

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