Editorial 17 June 2024

Editorial 17 June 2024

Title: Criminalising words: on allegedly divisive speeches

The grant of sanction to prosecute writer-activist Arundhati Roy and academician Sheikh Showkat Hussain for alleged “unlawful activity” in a case dating back to 2010 is unwarranted. Delhi Lieutenant Governor V.K. Saxena, who had accorded sanction in October 2023 to prosecute the Booker Prize-winning writer and the former Kashmir University professor, respectively, for allegedly divisive speeches and imputations against national unity, has now given his nod for invoking Section 13 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for the same set of speeches. The earlier sanction order was in his capacity as the appropriate authority on behalf of the Delhi government under Section 196 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The recent one is, presumably, on behalf of the Central government, the appropriate authority to sanction prosecution for offences under Chapter III of the UAPA, under which Section 13 falls. The resurrection of this old case is an unfortunate instance of ill-motivated prosecution. The only possible explanation for the revival of this case, registered on a magistrate court’s order in 2010, is that the present regime has found it expedient only now to do so, as part of its continuing crackdown on dissenters and outspoken critics. The eight-month gap between the two sanction orders is inexplicable, as the same material would have been placed before the sanctioning authority.

The regime at the Centre then did not deem it appropriate to prosecute the speakers at the conference held in Delhi in October 2010. Even though the Bharatiya Janata Party, then in the opposition, pressed for it, the Delhi police did not consider the speeches seditious. Its reluctance was possibly because the Centre did not want to jeopardise efforts to find a solution to the Kashmir problem through designated interlocutors. When a complaint was filed before a Magistrate, the court asked for a police report, but the Delhi police did not think the speeches warranted prosecution for sedition. However, on November 27, 2010, the Metropolitan Magistrate rejected the police stand and directed registration of a First Information Report. The FIR included Section 13 of UAPA, which seeks to punish “unlawful activities”. Speeches made at the conference may have contained imputations about the status of Kashmir, but it is doubtful if a mere speech, in the absence of a call to arms or instigation of violence, would amount to “unlawful activity” under UAPA. In any case, much has changed in the ground situation, especially in the aftermath of the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in 2019 and its division into two Union Territories. The new coalition regime should move away from the earlier era’s obsession with stamping out dissenting views and put an end to its propensity to criminalise speeches

Meaning of the word:

Imputations“Imputations” refers to the act of attributing or ascribing something, often a fault, crime, or undesirable characteristic, to someone. It involves suggesting or asserting that someone is responsible for a certain action or holds a particular quality, typically negativeAccusations
PresumablyThe word “presumably” is an adverb used to indicate that something is assumed to be true based on what is known, although it is not certain. It suggests that the speaker or writer is making a reasonable guess or assumption based on available information.Probably
InexplicableThe word “inexplicable” is an adjective used to describe something that cannot be explained or understood.Unexplainable
JeopardiseThe word “jeopardize” is a verb that means to put something or someone in danger or at risk. It is used to indicate that an action or situation could potentially cause harm, loss, or failure.Endanger

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