Cricket between India and Pakistan indeed incites great passion in both countries, and among the followers of the two teams patriotism often gets unduly mixed with the love for the game. However, for its sheer perversity and unreason, the action of the Meerut police in booking a group of students from Jammu and Kashmir on a charge of sedition beats all previous instances of the misuse of the penal provision. The ostensible ‘crime’ committed by the students seems to be that they cheered for the Pakistan cricket team during a closely fought one-day match against India and celebrated Pakistan’s victory. The charge of sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code has been dropped, but only after the strong outrage evoked by this irrational act. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah appealed to his counterpart in Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav, and described the invocation of grave offences unacceptably harsh. The only small comfort is that no student has yet been named in the first information report even though the charges of promoting enmity between different groups, under Section 153-A of the IPC and causing mischief (Section 427), remain. The Swami Vivekanand Subharti University, a private institution in Meerut, says it sent back Kashmiri students from the hostel where the incident took place as a precautionary measure to prevent the incident from being given a communal colour. While the University authorities claim they had not lodged a complaint, the district’s Senior Superintendent of Police says the police acted only on a complaint from its Registrar.
The reckless invoking of the grave charge of sedition for minor expressions of views that may be contrary to conventional notions of patriotism is an unacceptable affront to India’s democracy. The Supreme Court has made it clear that it cannot be invoked unless there is actual incitement to violence and intention to cause disorder, and that merely using words that indicate disaffection against the government cannot be termed sedition. The police officers who included Section 124A in the FIR appear to have no understanding of this aspect of the law. Nor did they take into account the adverse effect such a measure would have on the psyche of students and others from Kashmir residing or working elsewhere in the country. It was only recently that the Jammu and Kashmir cricket team was subjected to a midnight search of hotel rooms on the eve of a Ranji Trophy match in Jammu. The Uttar Pradesh government should take quick steps to drop the case and bring back the Kashmiri students to the same campus and let them resume their studies. Otherwise, this will be another ugly episode that will intensify the alienation of Kashmiris from the Indian mainstream.