Freedom of Speech vs. National Security: A Serious Issue

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India on 28th August 2018 had an arrest raid conducted for 5 prominent Indian Human Rights activists and Lawyers. They were suspected and alleged to have Maoist links.

Maoist is formally known as the Communist Party of India, with having the aim to overthrow the government, by protest and people’s war.

The arrest was made at the activist’s homes located in different parts of the country, namely Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakh, Arun Ferreira, and Vernon Gonsalves. A search was also conducted at the homes of other leftist lawyers and scholars, which is part of the same investigation. Number of evidence has been found by the police connecting these activists to Maoist insurgency.

The activist details are as follows:

  • Sudha Bharadwaj who is 56 years old is a law professor, and a trade unionist has been fighting for the rights of the tribal people for more than 30 years.
  • Varavara Rao, who is 78 years old, is a poet, and a communist with Maoist ideologue.
  • Gautam Navlakh is a member of the editorial board of an academic journal, and a civil liberties activist.
  • Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves are both lawyers.

The activist arrested have the ideology of communists, left-wing political views, they are also sympathisers for Maoists. With their links to the Communist Party of India (Maoist) they have spoken out on record against the current Indian Government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Some of them have been arrested before also for alleged Maoist Links.

Now, the cause of the current arrest could be traced to a large public rally, which was held in the state of Maharashtra, Pune city, on 31st of December, 2017. The public rally was organised by Dalits who were formerly unknown to be untouchables (abolished under Article 17 of the Indian Constitution). The rally was organised to commemorate a historical battle against caste oppression:  in 1818, the defeat of an upper-caste Hindu ruler by Dalits who fought alongside the British Colonial Forces.

Next day, after the rally, there was a clash between Dalits and the right-wing group. The right-wing opposed the commemorate as the celebration hurt the sentiments of the Hindu’s and praises the British Colonial Times, as India was under the British Rule at that time. Due to the clash, there was loss of life of one person and injuries to others.

The arrests of the activist were challenged in the Supreme Court by a group of Scholars, and by the order of the court, until the next hearing as scheduled for 6th of September 2018; the detainees are to be kept in house arrest rather than police custody.

So the big question is whether the Freedom of speech and expression provided as under the Article 19 Part 1 of the Indian Constitution under risk or, the Democratic structure and National Security under attack by the leftist political wing.

It is strongly believed that the activist or the leaders involved in the act or the group working for the development of the Dalits, have not received the due care as should be provided under the Directive Principles of State Policy (Part IV Article 36 – 51), which is not enforceable in any court of law but are Principles for the better governance and welfare of the society. Even after 71 years of Independence the minds of the citizens have not reached the stage of self-empowerment and growth, as Dalits are still not empowered. Will every statement of opinion considered as sedition and a threat to national security? The nation has been torn into two sections again, one supporting the arrest and the other opposing it.

By- Priyam Kamra
Student Reporter, INBA

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