Amnesty India faces sedition charge over ‘anti-India’ slogans

Karnataka Police filed an FIR because people at an Amnesty event raised azaadi slogans.

WrittenBy:Vijay Grover
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Karnataka Police filed a First Information Report (FIR) on Monday against human rights watchdog Amnesty International India. The charges include sedition because ‘anti-India’ slogans were allegedly raised at an event organised by the non-governmental organisation. The FIR is based on a complaint lodged by city secretary of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) Jayaprakash at the JC Nagar police station. ABVP is a student body affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Amnesty India said the event in question was part of the ‘Broken Families’ series, which highlighted the plight of Kashmiri families caught in the crossfire between militants and Indian Army.

Trouble broke out at the event during the performance of Kashmiri hip-hop artist Rouhan Illahi, who goes by the stage name MC Kash. Taking offence to his lyrics, the police switched off the microphone while a group of workers of a local Hindu organisation voiced their objections. MC Kash left the venue when the situation threatened to spiral out of control. In the heat of the moment, arguments and counter arguments broke out. One section of the gathering raised pro-Kashmiri independence slogans. Other members of the student community attempted to calm them down.

One of the participants at the venue, a Kashmiri student, told Newslaundry that slogans like “Hum kya maange? Azaadi” were not targeted towards the Indian State or the Indian Army, but were “only a reflection of the popular sentiment of Kashmiris”.

The Kashmiri Pandit community in Bengaluru, however, has a different version. Romesh Mattoo, a former journalist and a prominent Kashmiri Pandit voice, who was a panellist at the event, told Newslaundry, “The comments about the Indian army by some of the participants were offensive and that triggered the entire controversy. The flashpoint came when Kashmiri Pandits also wanted their point of view to be given equal importance, as they are also victims of human rights violations.”

On Sunday, the incident snowballed into a political battle, with ABVP and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers protesting outside the gates of the United Theological College (UTC) in Bengaluru East (the venue of the event) and demanding action against the organisers of the event. Protestors threw black paint and pelted stones, before the Bangalore Police arrested them. Mysore Member of Parliament Pratap Simha, who recently took charge as the chief of Karnataka State BJP Yuva Morcha, demanded the banning of Amnesty India.

“We demand that the Amnesty operations in India be banned. Even action should be taken against the UTC for having allowed the use of their hall for the meet,” Simha told Newslaundry. He alleged that such events are a conspiracy against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Kashmir policy.

By Sunday evening, Karnataka BJP President BS Yeddyurappa had shot off a letter to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, seeking action against the organisers.  The letter alleged that slogans against the Indian Army had been raised during the event.

Aakar Patel, Executive Director of Amnesty International India, felt that the organisation was being unnecessarily targeted. “The police were invited and present at the event. The filing of a complaint against us now, and the registration of a case of sedition, shows a lack of belief in fundamental rights and freedoms in India. Merely organizing an event to defend constitutional values is now being branded ‘anti-India’ and criminalised,” Patel said.

Amnesty India’s Abhirr VP clarified that the NGO was yet to receive the FIR from the police. “Our office was closed yesterday due to Independence Day.  We are yet to officially get any intimation from Bengaluru police, though we have heard of the FIR from the media,” he told Newslaundry.

Meanwhile, Home Minister of Karnataka, Dr G Parameshwara, acknowledged that the FIR had been filed and that “the law will take its course”. The police are also examining the video footage to identify the individuals involved, as the FIR is presently against unknown individuals. With mounting pressure from political parties, some of the participating Kashmiri students are likely to be arrested.

Sadly, the outrage over ‘anti-India’ slogans drowned out the experiences that Kashmiris had been invited to share. The story of an emotional Ali Mohammad Shah, whose son was allegedly killed by Army personnel in 2002 got lost in the fracas. Shah said the Army had picked up his son for interrogation. “He was dropped off at Beerwah police station and clearly, he had been tortured. He could not even speak. He slipped into coma and died the next day…he was innocent, and was killed just based on suspicion,” he said. But, there were no listeners for his tale of misery, something that practically every Kashmiri family caught in the crossfire faces.

Amnesty International India has just released an official statement in response to the complaint filed by ABVP against them. You can read the whole statement here.


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