Where Sedition is not a Crime

Is AFSPA India’s only response to the so often ‘seditious’ northeastern states asks Anuraag Baruah, an independent journalist?

Anuraag Baruah

When the happenings in JNU find an echo in a voice from the Northeast.

Many villages after villages and the people living in them in the Northeastern part of India are, I guess seditious. Of course these people themselves are not aware of it and only a prompt JNU-like action by the Home Ministry together with the Holy Right Parivar can enlighten them in this regard. But then someone pointed out to me that they have to be regarded as part of the nation first, to be regarded as acting against the nation at all. So in general our Northeastern folk are left alone, alone to rot and perish.

But on second thoughts, we are not that alone. The AFSPA is the most nationalistic thing to have happened to these parts according to many from the so called mainland. And AFSPA has been a constant companion for more than half a century now. Has anyone from the mainland or from the government ever tried to understand the situation in the Northeastern part of India?

“Who is Kasab? Who is Afzal Guru? Who are these people and what is their situation that they are ready to kill people by strapping bombs on their own bodies? If we cannot raise this question in a university, I don’t think the university has a right to exist.”

I don’t think a nation has any right to exist if it cannot understand the situation of the people living in it, understand their aspirations and dissent. Does anyone care why so many insurgent organizations have formed in Northeast India? What is their discontentment about? Why are they so often seditious? They have let AFSPA do the talking and closed the case.

The recent so called secret peace accord signed between the NSCN(IM) and the Govt. of India is one such example. Has anyone tried to understand the ground reality in Nagaland? Are the common people really happy with the proceedings? Can peace ever come by systematically favoring a particular section and siding off another in Nagaland? Any person with the slightest understanding of the region will say no to that. Again quoting the JNUSU President “critical analysis of ‘common conscience’” is the need of the hour but with the present stance of the BJP led government that seems far from a reality.

Will they ever understand the physical and mental terror which the youth of those remote villages had to live through, when they were constantly threatened to be and often declared terrorists? When rows of dead bodies, worm-infested, skull inside out, were strewn on the blood soaked on the ground, will they understand the pain of those mothers?  When the national media failing to go beyond the official statement released in such cases, declared them as seditious, as terrorists, how do you convince the family members and friends of those youth that the idea of India exists, the Indian constitution exists?

And when many such innocent youth had to join an insurgent organization like the ULFA as anyway they were being hounded and tortured by being falsely linked to these organizations, what was the Indian constitution doing at that time? Almost every household there had someone joining these insurgent organizations then. At least they could escape the state torture and their homes came under the care and supervision of their organization. At a time when India failed in these regions, the insurgent organizations took care of many such villages’ right from food to protection from the wrath of the state machinery. When many Army jawans raped their young daughters, where were these nationalists? When under the guise of AFSPA people were killed like stray dogs, what was the constitution doing to protect them?

Yes, JNU is perhaps the only tolerant space in Delhi where dissent and discussion co-exists. That is why a small student group like the Democratic Students Union(DSU)could organize a meeting to dissent about the Afzal Guru hanging. The JNUSU President seems to be only doing his duty if one is to believe videos, where he is checking Identity Cards of people at the event. So that no unlawful elements disrupt the peace of JNU. He seems to have nothing to do with the Anti-India slogans raised there but only wanted to give a patient hearing to the dissenting Kashmiri students present.

What gives rise to sedition? Does dissent mean sedition? Are sub-national aspirations that arise out of dissent seditious in nature? Why do sub-national aspirations surface? Has the nation-state fulfilled its duty according to the constitution, that duty of giving equal rights and privileges to its citizens? Have the people in the periphery felt themselves to be a part of the nation-state? In what context then do we debate sedition?

If certain regions of the country require special attention as declared by draconian laws like AFSPA, then don’t these regions also require special attention in terms of dissent, dissatisfaction so that dissent does not lead to sedition? Should these villages and the people living in them then be thrown out of the country or hanged? Is that the solution? Or we just let more Rohith Vemulas happen? And yes, am I anti-national when I ask all these questions?

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