The Indian Constitution allows us the freedom of speech and expression, but to make sure this doesn’t turn into a fit of name-calling and anger mongering, there are some restrictions on this right. Of these, the most prominent is Sedition and Defamation.
Here’s a quick recap of what they are:
These two laws are making frequent appearances in the news lately; it almost feels like these accusations could be slapped on anyone, even if they mildly criticized the new **** policy enacted by the **** government (Sorry, we wanted to give you a proper example, but our lawyers advised against it).
But no need to be worried, WTD has your back. Here are some quick tips to avoid Sedition and Defamation.
TIP #1: DO NOT SUPPORT TERRORISTS
Let’s get real, you might be a patriotic Indian who stands up during the national anthem, watches the Republic Day parade and pays a fine instead of a bribe at a traffic light, but if you even dare attempt to humanize a terrorist, rest assured you will be treated like one yourself. Remember this guy?
That’s Kanhaiya Kumar, a student from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi, who was arrested because he was against the hanging of Afzal Guru, a man convicted from the 2001 Indian Parliament attack. BTW, Kumar was totally on board with imprisoning Afzal Guru for life, it’s the death penalty he had a problem with. But who cares, if you’re showing even slight sympathy for a terrorist (or even Maoists for that matter), you must be anti-national. It’s sedition for you!
TIP #2: DO NOT QUESTION/CRITICIZE THE GOVERNMENT
As we know, defamation is to hurt a person’s reputation – but if that person is even remotely related to the government – it’s more likely than not that you’re going to have a case of defamation against you. And even government officials are not immune to this. Delhi’s Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal has been on trial for accusing Finance Minister Arun Jaitley of corruption. J Jayalalitha, the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu slapped defamation cases against her political opponents for questioning her wealth and motives.
You don’t want to do this through your social media either. Remember Shaheen Dhada? She posted ‘Mumbai shuts down due to fear, not due to respect’ a day after Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray died and was charged with defamation. Nobody messes with the Shiv Sena.
TIP #3: DO NOT SUPPORT PAKISTAN OR PAKISTANIS
First off, if you’re going to be called anti-national, that’s just half a step away from getting a sedition notice to your doorstep. And a good way to being tagged as anti-national is to support Pakistan or Pakistanis in any way. That’s what happened to Gurmehar Kaur, and she didn’t even directly support Pakistan, she just made a video NOT supporting India’s war against Pakistan. SEDITION!
And being a celebrity doesn’t help, Karan Johar spoke against the banning Pakistani actors in Bollywood and he was called anti-national too! It can be as small as supporting the wrong team during a match. A bunch of Kashmiri students of Meerut’s Swami Vivekananda Subharti University were charged with sedition when they were caught cheering for Pakistan during an India vs. Pakistan cricket match.
Side Note: This could apply to Jammu & Kashmir as well. Arundhati Roy was promptly slapped with a sedition case when she said that ‘Kashmir was not an integral part of India’ at a public forum. Wrong move Ms. Roy!
TIP #4: DO NOT PROTEST
This one’s quite simple. Your college fee is suddenly hiked without warning. Do you organize a peaceful protest? Not unless you want to face lathi charge, water cannons, and a sedition case. Case in point? The students of Panjab University, 66 of them were charged with sedition for protesting a fee hike.
And if you’re thinking of organizing a campaign against the human rights violations in J&K, we suggest you pass. Merely defending constitutional values is criminalized. Amnesty International, an organisation formed to defend human rights, was slapped with a sedition notice by the Bengaluru Police for doing exactly that. Dr. S. P. Udayakumar, an anti-nuclear protested against the setting up of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant. Guess what? SEDITION!
TIP #5: DO NOT MOCK POLITICAL/RELIGIOUS LEADERS
Whoever you are, you do not want to mock or question a political leader’s intent. Baba Ramdev commented on how Rahul Gandhi’s visits to Dalit households were acts of tourism (all in good humor of course). BAM! Defamation! Comedian Kiku Sharda got into some deep trouble for imitating the Dera Sacha Sauda Chief, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. So, if you think your jokes are funny, think again.
TIP #6: DO NOT GET CREATIVE ON POLITICAL TOPICS
Creativity and politics do not go hand in hand. Even back in 1988, the Rajiv Gandhi Government banned Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Satanic Verses’ because it could hurt religious sentiments. You don’t get spared even if you’re a political cartoonist. Aseem Trivedi was slapped with a notice for depicting the government’s corruption, so any social commentary is a no-no too. Moral of the story? Draw for entertainment purposes only, keep politics out of it.
We hope these tips are of great help to those who believe they have the absolute freedom of speech and expression. This is just a start, there are more to come. As the government finds new ways to muffle our voices, we’ll be here adding to this list of tips for anyone who wants to keep their record clean.