Professor of English
M.A., P.G.D.E.S., M.Litt., Ph.D. (CIEFL)He has worked as an Editor in the Educational Resource Divisions of Orient Longmans Publishing Company Hyderabad. He has taught at the Osmania University, Hyderabad, and has been a visiting Asstt. Professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and at the Department of South Asian Languages & Civilisations, University of Chicago, Chicago.
He has published widely in different journals and was one of the founding editors of an educational journal, KAYAKALP. He was also one of the associate editors of Women Writing in India, 2 vols. (New York and London: Feminist University Press, 1991 - 93).
He has recently completed a book titled: The Narrative Construction of India: Forster, Nehru and Rushdie (New Delhi, Bangalore and Jaipur: Rawat Publications, Forthcoming). He is currently working on a collaborative documentary film on Kabir, and is engaged in a book length study that explores the relationship between deconstructive method of scrutiny and the traditional path of self-inquiry.
His teaching interests include Phonetics, Cultural Criticism, Feminism and Critical Legal Studies.
2.Coming to the Salman Rushdie example, there are opinions that offence is very subjective and depends on sensitivity of the people. Especially in case of movies and books where there is an option with the people to not watch or read it if they think the content is offensive. Should offence be given such importance to hamper the rights of people?
The American example is classic where freedom of expression is of paramount significance. In the Indian scenario it is a bit more complex because the constitutional position is that freedom of speech and expression is not absolute. In literary expressions it depends on how the argument is made because in a scenario where you do offend someone is it for the sake of giving offence or does it have literary, scientific or educational value. I don’t think there can be a single way of interpreting a literary piece because different communities will find different ways of interpreting it. So at the end of the day there is no total escape from controversy or debate. The agreement must be that if a piece of writing is accompanied by a literary, religious or educational value then the offensive part can be overlooked but not otherwise.So something patently offensive without any value will not be tolerated by any society.
3.How clear is the law of sedition in India?
I think the law by its wordings is open to interpretations. In the context of the recent happenings on the JNU campus, some jurists were interviewed and they seem to have different opinions on whether what was committed was seditious nor not. For example, in an interview, Colin Gonsalves said the acts were not seditious because there was no violence on campus. On the other hand, Soli Sorabjee was of the opinion that it could potentially lead to violence and therefore, such slogans technically could come under sedition. Very often though it is a judicial interpretation which puts life into a legal provision. The reasoning of Kedarnath case, in my understanding, was not that there has to be physically blood for one to be able to say whether it is a case of sedition or not. But if a judge feels that there was a tendency to incite violence accompanied by an appeal to overthrow the State then it would come under sedition. On the other hand, the Balwant Singh case showed if there is an appeal to overthrow the State but not accompanied by a threat of violence, it won’t be sedition.So in my understanding, as long as the law is there in the statute, technically speaking it will be a case of sedition against those students who were directly involved in shouting the slogans.
4.There have been a lot of cases where slogans have been shouted against the Government of India like the Balwant Singh case where a Sikh who raised “Khalistan zindabad” slogans. In your opinion does mere slogan shouting amount to sedition? Why do you say that the slogans raised in JNU were seditious? (as there was no realistic and imminent danger, violence or public disorder)
The reasoning of Kedarnath makes it clear that there should be two elements; one is the incitement to violence and other is the appeal to overthrow the state. If you look at the slogans which were raised at JNU like “jung rahegi jaari” used the word “jung” which means fighting by violent means. If we take it literally then it is sedition. But personally I’m not for having such a law in the statute book because at the time of partition it became clear to the nationalist leaders that this law was framed to intimidate and threaten those who wanted to express themselves freely. When Nehru spoke in the Parliament during the first amendment to the Constitution he said that this law is obnoxious and must not be there in the statue book. What he meant by this was that if a person shows a tendency to harm the State then such a person can be tried under a combination of different laws and this particular law is a draconian law whose purpose was not to encourage any democratic reflection but merely to punish and terrorise. However ,Nehru had contradictions after independence as he became very intolerant towards the judiciary. But that is a different line of argument.
5.The JNU row has brought to light the debate about the difference between nationalism and patriotism. What is ,in your view, the difference between the two and how relevant do you think it is to the current situation?
Patriotism is raw, spontaneous, and organic. In all human societies there is tendency to protect the place where you’re born, your people and community. This is natural. Nation states on the other hand, emerged in the late 17th century in Western Europe which represent a configuration or arrangement that is not necessarily perfect or healthy. Such a political arrangement arose mainly against the backdrop of despotic rulers and only to that extent did it prove useful. Now we are very well poised to imagine a political scenario where nation states will have exhausted their historical usefulness and we might arrive at a more radically democratic and participatory arrangement than contemporary nation states that seem to have become intensely violent everywhere.
Great modern thinkers of our time, across the ideological spectrum, like Michelle Foucault and Habermas in Europe, and closer to home, Rabindranth Tagore, were very critical of nation state. If you are to read Rabindranath Tagore today you may find some of his writing ‘anti-national’ which is pretty ironical. The point is that nation states represent a vast impersonal network or a kind of impersonal machine which pretends to take care of all its citizens. But in practice that is not the case. Especially in today’s world with the advent of internet and instant communication we are able to visualise different types of communities across the world. So it is possible that without violence people may reorganise themselves in a different arrangement which is not as exploitative as nation state..In fact university is the main site for serious reflection on such crucial matters.
6.Would you keep sedition along with crimes like terrorism, assassination etc? Since all of them cause disruption of State.
My first priority would be the abolition of the law of sedition as there are other laws which can in a way take care of such offences. The ruling of the supreme court in Bilal Kaloo Ahmad is very germane to prove this point.. It is the business of the Law Commission to go into the details of the matter like it has done for Section 377 and Capital punishment. So it is the Law Commission which can look into the matter in great detail and suggest meaningful and democratic changes.
7.How huge a part does intention play in the law against sedition?How do you ever get to know the intent? This whole business of trying to know the intent is dubious to my mind. The judicial system is not equipped to address this issue. Intention is a psycho-social element which is very hard to prove. The judges will go by whatever has been provided to them as evidence and what exactly was said or written. Again I will point out the Kedarnath reasoning on the existence of two elements which can only be proved through a prolonged investigation and examination. It is possible that during examination it can be proved that one did not have the intent to overthrow the state but one just said it out of anger or sudden fit of rage on the spur of the moment! In any case there is always a gap between the oral/textual material as evidence and the inner mind that may or may not have an explicit motive to cause something to happen!
8.Was the aspect related to intention considered in the Binayak Sen Case and Arundhati Roy case?
Binayak Sen was a totally hopeless case. About nine Noble laureates wrote a letter to the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking why an innocent man should be put behind bars for such a serious crime!. In fact the so called evidence in this case was laughable. He was just an active doctor who worked among poor tribals in Chattisgarh. When his computer was ceased it was found out that some of the people in his pay roll had allegedly joined the Naxals. Secondly, they found works of Mao and Lenin in his study. Should this sort of evidence stand in any court of law? The grapevine in the judicial circle has it that the concerned judge held the conviction because he didn’t want to displease the State power structure and knew very well that it would not stand on appeal.
Another example is of Ashis Nandy who wrote literary articles about illegitimacy of nationalism and was served a notice for sedition. Similarly, Arundhati Roy’s speech is very moving if you actually care to read that without a prejudiced mind! Here I wish to emphasise the point that you don’t have to be necessarily a part of Maoist or communist ‘violence’ to actually see the Octopus like engulfing capacities of nationalism.. As far as sedition is concerned, regardless of whichever party is in power, they have used it as an instrument to harass and intimidate those who strongly disagree with the State. This started from Nehru who was very intolerant towards the judiciary when it went against his idea of centralised nation state. He once grew so desperate with the ruling of the higher judiciary in India that he had to say on record that judges of the high courts and the Supreme Court have committed theft of the Indian Constitution.
I personally feel that the Indian nation state has no reason to be so fragile. It is very strong already but it somehow seems very unstable psychologically. It has to reach out to those communities and people who question its various acts of doubtful nature in the pretext of keeping the various flocks together by utterly repressive means. For example, voices of protest from the north-east, Kashmir, Chhattisgarh have to be compassionately attended to and just not dismissed as the noise of some anti-national fissiparous elements.
9.Do you believe that Kashmir has the right of secession because of the way it has been treated in the past and why?(son/daughter example)
Firstly, let’s see the legal position. I disagree with many activists who proclaim that India has illegally occupied Kashmir. That’s a legally incorrect position. The fact of the matter is that an instrument of accession was signed between Raja Hari Singh and the Government of India. It is important to appreciate the scenario at the time Hari Singh decided to sign the agreement and that will also make us understand the reason why Nehru took the Kashmir issue to the UN because a lot of people still blame him for that. These are conjectures based on misunderstandings.
So why did Hari Singh sign the agreement? Hari Singh wanted to stay independent of both India and Pakistan. But when he chose to stay independent, it wasn’t taken well by Pakistan because Pakistan believed that at least the valley which was predominantly Muslim belonged to Pakistan. Therefore, Pakistan encouraged the migration of warring tribesman into Kashmir who looted bazaars, committed murders and rapes and made their way to Srinagar. Nehru watched all this with great anxiety but couldn’t do anything because Kashmir was a foreign country. So the then viceroy, Mountbatten forced Hari Singh to make a decision to part with either of the States. At this moment Hari sing decided to accede to India so that Indian air force could land in Kashmir and take action. But even at that point Hari Singh was in a combative mood and added the condition that it won’t be a complete merger (that’s why we have Article 370). So once the Indian army took control, people of Kashmir had great appreciation for this gesture of the Indian State. It was at that point Nehru chose to go to the UN for he knew that if there was a plebiscite then India would win. But a condition for the plebiscite was that both the armies should withdraw which Pakistan did not agree to. Hence, the plebiscite could not happen.
But today Kashmir remains a disputed territory; you can’t say it is an integral part of India. This dispute should be amicably resolved but I see no immediate possibility of that happening in a foreseeable future. However, when we look at the cultural and historical background of Kashmir it is no doubt a very much Indian place. To cut a very complex cultural story short here, my ultimate conclusion and hope is that the people of Kashmir will themselves one day see the ‘reality’ of the situation and without any force or coercion would want to be with the larger confederation of India! But, first of all, the Indian government has to walk an extra mile and acknowledge the atrocities they may have committed which have been committed towards both the Pandits and the Muslims.