The recent controversy over sedition charges against Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Kanhaiya Kumar has led to several discussions and debates over sedition being used as a weapon to curb freedom of speech.
As one of the speakers at the event “Celebrating Freedom and Pluralism” on Sunday, Mihir Desai spoke on “Sedition and the Spectre of Anti-National”. The event was organised by Mumbai Collective — a group of “concerned citizens of Mumbai”.
While speaking about sedition, Desai gave several examples of cases such as Aseem Trivedi, Balgangadhar Tilak, and the recent Kanhaiya Kumar. He said: “Sedition as a law is used to silence critics but one cannot book “slogans” under sedition unless it is against the state. One shouldn’t shy away from criticising and the demand should be to abolish sedition.”
The day further saw a lot of panel discussions, speeches, and poetry recitation by various personalities on freedom, assault on reason and higher education, artists talking about communalism, and the spectrum of gender, violence and communalism.
Eminent speakers like Prabhat Patnaik (economist and JNU professor), MS Raghunathan (professor of Mathematics, IIT-Mumbai), D Balasubramanian (chairman of the panel on ethics of the inter-academies of sciences), Megha Pansare (activist and assist professor, Shivaji University, Kolhapur) argued on “The assault on Reason and Higher Education”.
Talking about JNU students being “politically inclined” Patnaik said: “Why shouldn’t students be political?. We must stop using the word ‘politics’ in a dirty manner, and definitely stop making students apolitical. The fact that they’re political means that they are sensitive towards what’s going on.”
He added: “Education has now become a money-making business which is sold to students in a packaged format that prohibits students from thinking and having an opinion.” Zeeshan Ayub (actor) enthralled the audience with his recital of poems by Faiz, Majaz, Gorakh Pandey, Paash, and others. Talking about the state of country’s current debate of sedition and curbing of freedom of speech Ayub said: “We are polarizing the society, history, culture, literature, it is extremely a hopeless condition.”