Son booked for sedition, family facing social boycott

Saurabh Sharma | Sep 14, 2017 | 6 min read

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Son booked for sedition, family facing social boycott

By Saurabh Sharma

FIR no.: 443/15
Date: Month xx, 20__
Section: 124A and a few others (IPC)
Police station: Aurangabad City (Bihar)
Accused: Shankar Yadav, Ved Prakash Singh, Vikram Yadav, Arvind Yadav, Sanjay, Ganesh Yadav, Satyendra, Vijay Prajapati

The life of Ved Prakash Singh has turned upside down since the police filed sedition charges against him. The everyday fear of police nabbing him and whisking him for interrogation has become a part of life. His financial status has gone from bad to worse, the stress has taken a toll on his health and people he called friends have been avoiding him. And this is not even the worst part.

The biggest pain in his life, he said, is that because of the charges against him, his cousins are facing difficulty finding a groom.

The case was filed against him in Aurangabad city. To escape police harassment, he moved to Patna. Here, he is pursuing Bachelors in Law, or LLB. Speaking with the reporter over the phone, he refused to tell where he lives or the name of the private college he is apparently studying at. He sounded nervous when the reporter mentioned the sedition case. After some hesitation, he accepted that he was the one against whom the case is booked. 

And why is he facing a case of sedition? "Sir, I have never gone against India. I love India as much as Modi or any other citizen," he said, claiming that Section 124 was slapped against him because he raised his voice against hike in college fees and other ills plaguing the education system. Singh happens to be the head of the state unit of All India Democratic Student Organisation. The 26-year-old wants to become a lawyer and fight his own case in the court. He had attended a couple of case hearings, but then stopped going.

"I don't want to get arrested and packed off to jail," he said. "I will prove my deshbhakti after I get the law degree."

He has much to prove. For, the charges against him have brought an upheaval in his and his family's life. He rued that even the friend whom he had helped get admission in a college and lent support after his father's death shuns him now. Bitterly, he said that whenever he calls that friend, someone else answers the call and hangs up after saying "wrong number".

He juxtaposed his life before and after the case, saying it was beautiful until he was labelled a Naxal. Now, he said he fears even going to the college. He's always looking over his shoulders. "I never know when the police will come to arrest me and beat me with canes for the deeds I've never done," the law student said.

“Sir, Naxali na hote hue bhi unke dande hamein Naxali bana dete hain,” Singh remarked. (Sir, one might not be a Naxal but police batons can end up making them just that.)

Self-pity was evident as he shared how his family, which never was financially well off, was in deep trouble now and no one was coming forward to support them in any manner. He took a jibe at the police and "our so-called system", exclaiming he never knew decrying fees hike and other evils would make him an anti-national. He said the thought of ending his life has crossed his mind a few times, but he would rather fight injustice than succumb to it.

The allegation

While Singh cut a sorry figure, the man who had filed the complaint against him won't buy any of his self-pity. He alleged that Singh has been spotted with hardcore Naxals, reeling off names of a few of Singh's alleged partners-in-crime. He said this group was planning an attack on the police. He asked what Singh was doing with Naxals on a hillock if he is innocent. He asked how the police got a tip-off about him hobnobbing with the rebels if he's indeed innocent.

A senior police officer, on the condition of anonymity, said charges were framed against Singh only after proper investigation. The officer said police are certain about his involvement with the armed rebels and are convinced that he has acted against the nation.

The law
Section 124A, one of the sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) under which Singh has been booked, says: "Whoever brings or attempts to bring hatred or contempt, or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government shall be punished with imprisonment for life or three years."

In simple terms, if someone misuses their right to free speech and tries to incite violence, their actions amount to sedition.

Since it's a cognizable offence, the police don't need a warrant to arrest an accused. It's a non-bailable as well as a non-compounable offence, which means a compromise between the accused and the complainant cannot terminate the judicial proceedings. If one is found guilty, they may face three years behind bars or life imprisonment. However, the judgment takes a long time and during the hearings, an accused has to live without passport, is barred from government jobs and have to produce themselves in the court on a regular basis. While conviction rate under this section is low, the consequences of being booked itself become the punishment.

Student leaders who were in the eye of the storm over the Jawaharlal Nehru University row in February 2016, Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, were also booked under Section 124A. Hardik Patel from Gujarat, who led the agitations in Gujarat in 2015 demanding reservation for the Patidar community was also slapped with the same charge. 

Its history and disapproval
The contentious section was included in the IPC in 1870 and personalities of the stature of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi were booked under it. Tilak was booked multiple times and had to spend six years behind bars for an editorial published in his newspaper, Kesari. In 1922, Gandhi ji had to appear in the court for his articles in his weekly paper, Young India. In the hearing, the Father of the Nation had denounced the law, saying: “Section 124A under which I am happily charged, is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the IPC designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen.”

After India had won independence and adopted its constitution, the country's first prime minister Nehru had taken a firm stand against the law on sedition. “Take again Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code. Now so far as I am concerned that particular section is highly objectionable and obnoxious and it should have no place both for practical and historical reasons, if you like, in any body of laws that we might pass. The sooner we get rid of it the better.”

-Ends-

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