Former Delhi CJ warns against anti-national, sedition charges to hammer free voice

A P Shah

New Delhi, April 20: Former chief justice of Delhi High Court A P Shah on Wednesday widely spoke against forces that are trying to “instill a feeling within one of a sense of committed patriotism and nationalism.” 

Shah was delivering a lecture on ‘free speech, nationalism and sedition’ for M N Roy memorial lecture. He questioned the government’s “acceptable view” of “nationalism” that forced one to “stand for the national anthem at a movie theatre.” He spoke against rising cult of nationalism where anyone holding a view different from the dubbed is termed as “anti-national” today.

He said nationalism is not prescribing what you can eat, see, and speak. Speaking for M N Roy memorial lecture, Shah paralleled the current discourse on “nationalism” with what eminent thinker and nationalist M N Roy said in 1942, “A parochial, selfish, narrow minded nationalism has caused so much misfortune and misery to the world. A mad and exaggerated form of this cult of nationalism is today running rampant.”

Shah said, “Unfortunately, our institutions of learning are under attack today and there is a concerted attempt to destroy any independent thought. Today, sadly, in this country I love, if anyone holds a view that is different from the government’s acceptable view, they are immediately dubbed as anti-national or desh-drohi.”

He further said the title of “anti-national” is being used to beat the voices of dissent and criticism, followed by slapping criminal charges of sedition.

Disagreeing with Supreme Court’s order regarding national anthem and said, “It is important to remember that the right to free speech and expression also includes the right not to speak or express ourselves. However, under the guise of law, the court has now stepped in and restricted our fundamental rights.”

Justice Shah cautioned against the perils of such muzzling up at university campuses and said, “We have a 21-year-old university student who is subject to severe online hate, abuse and threats only because she dared express her views.”

Shah informed the audience that his maternal grandfather was president of the Hindu Mahasabha in the 1940s and questioned RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s call for bringing up a national law against cow slaughter. “We must be wary of forcing a single ideology or way of living on the entire country, especially a country as diverse as India, where states such as Kerala, or the various states in the north-east, consider beef a staple part of their diet.”

Taking on to crackdown on slaughter houses in Uttar Pradesh, Shah said targeted action at Muslim butchers is not only bringing a havoc of fear to lakhs of people but it is also risking the stable employment of these people.

The other eminent personalities present were Law Commission chairman Justice B S Chauhan, third senior-most judge of the SC Justice J Chelameswar and other former and sitting judges of the apex court.

Justice Chelameswar related with Shah’s views and noted that bound by his constitutional obligation, he could not enjoy the same freedom of speech as Shah.

“In a democracy, freedom of speech rings hollow if the government cannot ensure the same,” said the chairman of the 20th Law Commission. He said it’s time to change the draconian Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code which deals with sedition.

Wefornews Bureau

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