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India & Pakistan Continues To Be Haunted By Colonial-Era Laws

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Sedition a memory of the colonial past was passed down from British India to India and Pakistan at the dawn of their independence. The draconic sedition law is used every now and then to curb dissenting voices against the government in both India and Pakistan.

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It’s time the government stops deeming people anti-national and wakes to the realization that criticism of the government is love for the nation.

Once Mahatma Gandhi was himself charged with sedation and this rule was termed Draconian. ‘In my humble opinion, every man has a right to hold any opinion he chooses, and to give effect to it also, so long as, in doing so, he does not use physical violence against anybody.’ Gandhi wrote.

Even before Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak was tried numerous times under the sedition laws for criticizing the government. Then, he was defended by a young Mohmmad Ali Jannah, the founding father of Pakistan. Yet the first amendment brought about by the government at the time reintroduced the draconian colonial rule.

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Ammar Ali Jan writing for Al-Jazeera states the law as an inherited tool used to silence and terrorize any dissenting voice in both the nation. Sedation law is a remembrance of the colonial thinking which sees the state not as a body that is designed to serve the people but a weapon to subdue the, is still thriving in this democracy. This gap between the legacy is still haunting its people to this day.

In late last year, Islamabad charged hundreds of people with Sedition for being part of a Students Solitary march. The main demand of the march was to restore student unions in Pakistan. However, one of the participants was arrested on charges of allegedly conspiring to overthrow the government and has been rotting in jail.

Meanwhile in Jharkhand, India, 10,000 people from the tribal community were booked under sedition for protesting against the government for issuing an order allowing commercial use of their land.

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“These people were booked for creating disaffection against the government. Four activists working on the movement were booked under similar charges for writing on social media and sharing news clippings,” senior advocate at the Human Rights Law Network, Gunjan Singh said.

“The bar for charging someone with sedition is set very high in the legal books. And most of these FIRs are bogus, as there is no evidence. Putting people behind bars on such charges is only an ad-hoc measure to suppress dissent,” adds Singh.

The sedation law has become a leeway in suppressing intellectual dissent. And this is not something new done by current governments in both India and Pakistan. This law has been pertained and used by governments that have come and gone. However, activists have been more vocal recently in asking both the government to repeal it.

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Ammar Ali in his article asks an interesting question, “Who are the people being seditious against if they, themselves are the rulers? An honest resolution of this question will not only allow the sub-continent to overcome one of the darkest legacies of colonial rule, but it will also aid us in figuring out what it means to be patriotic in a region where nationalism is becoming increasingly insular and punishing.”

Both India and Pakistan should relish the true spirit of democracy and do away with this old law maintaining colonial values of suppression. Freedom of speech can only be enjoyed when it comes without the fear of being curbed.

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