Free Speech… Azaadi and Beyond


This article was written by Ujjaini Chatterji a student of Symbiosis law School, Noida.

“Democracy is a system, for the people, of the people and by the people.” read our textbooks. Under the constant, influence, of various fabricated stories of idealism and justice in the Indian society, we were brought up under the fantasy of the Indian Nationalism and nationhood. Our texts never read of Manorama Devi and neither did we care to know about Soni Sori. No high school, ever allowed a topic of debate that truly needed discussions. The youth, continued to speak about clichés like the superiority of genders and the need for punctuality in most debates since nursery. Indeed, it is no wonder, that a country that is used to bringing up its children as conveniently indoctrinatated machines is brutally scandalized by certain recent debates. Then does, nationalism, eclipse freedom? Can any idea at all, be sacrosanct in a democracy?
In his, electrifying speech before surrendering Umar Khalid, quoted Pakistani poet Habib Jalib and describes, how both, India and Pakistan were no different and yet were slaves to the tyranny of America. Of course, his indication was towards the dangerous effects of corporatization in the world that is controlling not just trade, but also, our lives, politics, education and destinies.  Umar Khalid’s voice came as saving grace to end the uncanny silence of our Youth.
Globalization, in trade, is nothing new to wonder about. Since the inception of trade in mankind, Globalization has been with us.  No society was ever completely self reliant. We always had to work in co ordination with the world. We hence, created the Silk Route, relations with the Arabs and Indian Spices went to Europe even in the earliest of times. In, fact what lead to not just the world wars, but also, the genesis of thinking and debate amidst the world, was trade. Geographical discoveries were instigated by the capture of Constantinople. When Constantinople was blocked, newer routes had to be found to India for spice trade. And thus, Europe began sailing. This exposure to the world, lead to the Renaissance that broke medieval taboos and sought Free Speech. Europe began to change. From the Industrial Revolution to the development of colonies and the colonial rivalry, the idea was to always, primarily ensure optimum use control of world resources. Under the circumstances, various ideologies emerged, the ideas of politics evolved and we even fought the two World Wars. Trade insecurity and maximization of profits were the primary reasons that lead to the two Great wars that ended in nothing but misery. An arrogant Europe, also began to realize that the strategy of war and patriarchal was discarded by its own people. The Globe chose democracy over conquests, where rebel could be contained, in a manner to accommodate every opinion. England altered its policies from that of a colonial nation to a welfare nation. A world, broken by war, began to dream of restoration through Democracy.
Soon after the World wars, discussions about Free Trade began to reemerge and the need for an open global economy became a point of discourse. With the very first round in the year 1947, in Geneva, the discussions continued for almost fifty years until the establishment of the World Trade Center in the year 1995. The idea was to liberalize trade.
However, from the very beginning, the United States remained the most protectionist through their  Smoot Hawley Tariff Act(1930).It is also argued, that this was also a reason behind the worsening of the Great Depression. The United States, was one of the least affected by the two wars and has carefully remained protectionist enough to consolidate its own economy. From the Rockfeller Foundations in the early 1920s itself, America had begun controlling the civil societies and voices across the world.
Of course, now, the USA, leads all the concerns over free trade across the world. Trade has resulted in the invasion of Iraq, Iran, Vietnam and various other nations across the world by America. The question that arose in the modern world was that whether the WTO was indeed, a colonial powerhouse that chose undermine the indigenous rights of the people, especially in the developing countries. Now, this question obviously does not have a very straight answer. Keeping the rhetorics and idealism aside, America continues to dominate the WTO. In various ways, the WTO is being steered in order to satisfy the corporations of the United States. One example is the recent dispute amidst India and the United States, where, The United States was obviously given advantage. The complaint against the United States was that regarding the Indian ambitious project to provide electricity to the country with least pollution. However the United States intervened, to assert that as per WTO rules, India had to involve the US to export the solar cells instead of subsidizing the state project. America’s demand was allowed and India is considering another appeal to the appellate body. And this was just another example of the various ways in which Free Trade and the United states have continuously interrupted indigenous projects, efforts and rights. In a similar dispute of Canada, in their project for greener policies, and renewable producers, the Appellate body had ruled against Canada. The logic provided was that these policies go against the interests of the foreign manufacturers. Yet, the question remains that whether, the WTO is unable to evolve itself in order to recognize the struggles of the developing world and the need for sustainable development.
The political struggles that Umar is raising are certainly cautioning and worthy of thought upon the similar lines of the coercive tendencies of World Trade. The governments too are paying very little attention the indigenous needs and rights.
Speaking of Indigenous rights, India was one among those countries that had stressed majorly on the indigenous right to self determination, when the United Nations adopted the International Bill of Human Rights in the year 1976,  which gave legality to the Charter of Human Rights that were adopted in the year 1946.
Sadly, more than sixty years, after independence, India’s belief in self determination is no more than crude hypocrisy.
During the infamous Niyamgiri-Vedanta dispute, the Indian Government pushed in favor of the British multinational Corporation and its ruthless exploitation plan of the Niyamgiri Hills for mining. Adivasis-the indigenous Indians were displaced and killed. Protest did, eventually turn turbulent and found little space in our elitist scheme of life. Obviously, when deprived of all economic, cultural and social rights, protests did turn violent and the so called Naxal movement eventually was the greatest threat to ‘internal security’ as the then Congress Government had declared. The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act of 2008, added to the list of draconian Laws which continue to oppress the voices within the country that are screaming for help. In the states like Orissa, Chhattisgarh, where the Maoist and Naxal movement spread rapidly, teachers, artists, journalists and social workers were arrested , detained and tortured. Soni Sori, a simple teacher in Bastar district of Chhattisgarh was arrested only under the suspicion of being a Maoist/ The UAPA act, gave enormous powers to the Police to detain her. She was raped in custody and tortured with electric shocks and stones being inserted into her genitals. Soni Sori struggled against death in her hospital in Calcutta. Soni Sori was brave, however, the government had found the Cop who tortured her, more worthy of the President’s Gallantry Award in the Republic Day of 2011.
Various, Social workers, writers, artists, Lawyers and journalists have been repeatedly jailed and many of them remain unknown even today. From Dr Binayak Sen to many other unknown names, sedition is the favorite weapon of the government to silence dissent. The EU-India, Free Trade agreement in the year 2009 had raised the lack of rights for Dalits and Adivasis in India as a major concern.[1]
In a recent article in the Outlook, Ms Bela Bhatia reports, about the terrible condition of Human Rights in Bastar. She writes about how, Lawyers, Journalist and any other visitor is categorically, killed, removed or arrested in the area where security personnel continue to rape and violate civilians. [2] This situation, clearly violation Public International Law and Human Rights where both the UN charter and the Bill of Rights grant us indigenous right to self determination.
The conflict of Sedition, 124A of the IPC and the Right to Free Speech, as per Article 19 of the constitution have repeatedly been in conflict. This is the same Law of sedition that was used to silence dissent in the era of Indian freedom struggle. Gandhi had called it the ‘prince’ of all oppressive Laws.
The idea of Free Speech and the need for dissent was outlined with clarity by the Supreme Court of India in the case of both Kedar Nath v State of Bihar and Balwant Singh v State of Punjab. It was reiterated, that nothing could amount to sedition, if such a speech or form of expression did not directly incite violence. Therefore, like explained in the case of Balwant Singh, a direct intent to disintegrate India does not amount to sedition. Recently, in the case of Shreya Singhal v Union of India, 66A of the IT act, and thus creating a whole new dimension to the Jurisprudence of Free Speech in India.
Various thinkers, have complained, that the Youth is losing itself, somewhere within the struggle to conform to the standards of the Capitalist world. The CFR provides scholarships, most educational institutes like the Jindal Law School, The Tata Institute of social Sciences are being run by the Industrialists themselves. From Media houses, to Ngo and the Civil Society, single powerhouses are governing, them all. The Dainik Bhaskar group alone, controls, schools, mining, electricity and the media in India. Our present government has primarily been elected by the capitalist elites of the society who cheered Mr. Modi and his policies favoring the Ambanis, Adanis and most other ‘Baniyas’(Yes Caste oppression is also a reality in India). His American dialogues have been very successful as we concede to the demands of pharmaceutical companies to continue their high prices and exploit the patent regime by twisting the TRIPs and WTO conveniently. Unsurprisingly, our medical bills are soaring. Coke and the Foundation continue to fund our dissent.
Umar Khalid, as a Youth and quite evidently, a gifted student, could have opted for a corporate placement. He did not really need to be politically active in a sitation when it is the least glamorous option. Instead, he chose dissent. He did not just rebel against the system, but also his Indian background, where just a different opinion is considered to be so detrimental. His arrest, in the first place, was without any reason. Even if an FIR is filed, for a cognizable offence, according to Section 157(1) of the IPC, the police is expected to first try to investigate the matter, without arrest. As held in the case of Joginder Kumar v state of U.P, the police is not expected to arrest as per its whims and fancies only because it is entitled to do so. An arrest is made only after all the other options are extinguished.
Umar’s opinions, at the moment stand as the ray of hope towards humanity in order to expose the realities of the Indian scene of Human Rights. It is left to us to wonder and decide that what after all, makes the system, the elitist hysteric journalist and the Indian Taboos so afraid of a voice. If at all, Umar makes, no sense, why is everyone so intimidated by him? Perhaps, it is because, a single Umar is that spark which can light the fire of rebel for justice in the entire country. Umar is my Hero. So is everyone, who is trying to make a difference to this society and are living up to the spirit of a true democracy with the commitment towards truth and integrity.

[1] Trade, Corpoarte Market and indegegious people, George Goldy <> , retrived, 23/3/2014

[2]  “A war without a witness”, Bhatia Bela  , retrieved, 23/3/2016

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