We will fight for freedom, not allow the country to descend into the dark ages

National Herald is committed to freedom, individual liberty and right to dissent. We condemn attempts to describe 45 cultural personalities who wrote an open letter to PM as seditious or anti national

We will fight for freedom, not allow the country to descend into the dark ages

Zafar Agha

Are we as a nation moving into dark ages? If not, how does a court take cognisance of a sedition charge against as many as 45 cultural personalities who wrote an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi against hate crime spreading like a virus through the length and breadth of the country? And this despite the Supreme Court of India laying down the rule that only incitement to violence against the state can amount to sedition.

Not only has there been not a word of condemnation or repudiation from the High Court or the Supreme Court but not a single person in authority has publicly ridiculed the absurd stand taken by the Muzaffarpur court on a complaint from a lawyer. Union Minister Prakash Javadekar merely distanced the ruling party and the Government and stated that they had nothing to do with the court’s action. Technically correct. But a party and the Government which doesn’t think twice before commenting, even warning, the Supreme Court on Ram Janmabhoomi cannot find their voice to send out a message?

One also suspects the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had this open letter in mind when in his Dussehra speech on Sunday, he frowned upon people raking up the ‘Western construct’ of lynching and defaming India. In his matchless wisdom, he appeared to approve the court’s action and suggested that the act of writing an open letter was somehow ‘seditious’.

But what did the open letter contain? It read, “We, as peace loving and proud Indians, are deeply concerned about a number of tragic events that have been happening in recent times in our beloved country.” And, they demanded: ‘’1) The lynching of Muslims, Dalits and other minorities must be stopped immediately. 2) There is no democracy without dissent. People should not be branded antinational or ‘Urban Naxals’ and incarcerated because of dissent against the government.”

By only a wild and irresponsible stretch of imagination can these demands be deemed to be a crime against the country. As proud Indians they only pointed out that in a ‘’secular’’ republic, minorities and Dalits must not be discriminated against and dissent against the government should not be treated as seditious. Is writing an open letter with these two demands calls for their arrest? If yes, isn’t it against the basic tenets of democratic norms? Democracy does acknowledge the right of citizens to disagree with and criticise the government of the day.

But these are strange times when ‘’pillars of democracy’’ are writing their own rules to defy basic constitutional norms. Well, a court ordered Bihar police to lodge an FIR against those cultural personalities and undoubtedly the court intends to harass them and demand their presence in court to answer the facetious charge. The irony is that courts have been unable to deliver justice to victims of mob lynching or to punish the perpetrators.

What do you say about such a judicial order except to recite a well-known couplet that famous revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote in the 1960s:

Kisey Vakil karen, kis sey muncifi chahen

Tumhi Vakil, tum hi muddai, tumhi munsif

(Who should we engage as lawyer, where shall we seek justice because/ You are the lawyer, you the complainant and you the judge as well)

Faiz had penned these lines in the context of Pakistani judiciary in the 1960s. They seem strangely applicable to the Indian judiciary in 2019. We do increasingly resemble Pakistan.

Democracy is being put on its head these days. The accused in mob-lynching cases are garlanded by union ministers and enjoy the protection of the police; while those who speak about harmony, seek an end to mob violence are accused of sedition.

The message being sent out loud and clear is that please, don’t ask questions. Because if you do, then you too may get a warrant of arrest.

But then this is the time to stand up for truth and justice, to defend democracy. Because if we do not speak up now, we will meet the same fate as Germans during Hitler’s time. Remember those famous lines written in Hitler’s Germany: “First they came for the Jew and I kept quiet. Then they came for a trade unionist, I kept quiet. Then they came for a communist and I kept quiet. When they came for me, there was no one to speak for me.”

Therefore, we at National Herald stand in support of those who wrote to the Prime Minister seeking justice for victims of lynchings and mob violence, those who believe in dissent and dare to speak against the government. Our founder Jawahar Lal Nehru had famously said, “Freedom is in peril, defend it with all your might.”

It remains our motto and is inscribed at the top on our masthead. Freedom is, indeed, in peril in prevailing circumstances. We must defend it with all our might.