Society

‘Everyone is self-censoring’: Vrinda Grover

Supreme Court lawyer Vrinda Grover is representing one of the petitions filed in the Supreme Court by journalists Patricia Mukhim and Anuradha Bhasin, asking for the sedition law to be scrapped.

Supreme Court lawyer Vrinda Grover is representing one of the petitions filed in the Supreme Court by journalists Patricia Mukhim and Anuradha Bhasin, asking for the sedition law to be scrapped. | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Supreme Court (SC) lawyer Vrinda Grover has been associated with cases that champion human rights and women’s rights — from representing rape victims of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots to victims of religion-driven hate crimes.

Currently, Grover is representing one of the petitions filed in the Supreme Court by journalists Patricia Mukhim and Anuradha Bhasin, asking for the sedition law to be scrapped.

In this interview, Grover explains why the contentious law must “go into the trash bin as soon as possible.” She insists, however, that the fight to safeguard civil liberties has a longer road ahead. Edited excerpts:

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Can you tell us about the petition that you are representing and what your plea is?

The petitioners, Mukhim and Bhasin, are women journalists from Shillong and Kashmir, respectively. My petition specifically emphasises how the offence of sedition has a direct, detrimental effect on the freedom of press. While it is an issue of fundamental rights, it is also an issue of democracy. The Supreme Court has held freedom of press to be an integral part of democracy. The experience has been that the offence of sedition is specifically trying to intimidate and silence journalists, and therefore, negatively impact the freedom of press and this will have ramifications beyond the individual. It is not just an individual’s rights getting harmed; it is a case of the collective voice of society, whether critical or dissenting, getting impacted.

Many have expressed mellow criticism of the Supreme Court’s interim order on sedition. What is your view?

I think it is a very important, significant and valuable order. What the Supreme Court has done is unprecedented — a criminal offence that exists in the statute book, its enforcement and operation have been put in abeyance even while the provision hasn’t been struck down yet as unconstitutional. This isn’t a step the court would usually take. The court has underlined the urgency that was required. The order also gives a clear signal to every government and State power that people’s right to exercise their freedom is not to be suppressed by deploying criminal law.

Civil liberty concerns go beyond sedition. Laws such as the UAPA, the NSA as well as provisions in the IPC are often used to target critics. Your comments.

I share the concern completely. The law has today been weaponised against all civil liberties, the law has become the favourite weapon of State power. When it comes to freedom of speech and expression we are already seeing the UAPA but also a slew of provisions in the IPC, like Section 153A, which is a law meant to deal with someone using language to target a community. Instead, people speaking of caste atrocities and police violence are being picked up and implicated in those [Section 153A] cases. The chilling effect in Indian society is undeniable, everyone is self-censoring themselves. The courts will have to do a lot more.

The writer is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.


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Printable version | Jun 25, 2022 4:57:03 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/society/everyone-self-censoring-vrinda-grover-sedition-law-kunal-purohit/article65551919.ece