CHENNAI: A number of activists and legal experts who participated in a panel discussion on Friday reiterated the importance of civil disobedience, a concept employed by Mahatma Gandhi, for the proper functioning of democracy in a context where the fundamental rights of citizens were under threat from the Executive.
New Delhi-based legal expert Usha Ramanathan said the concept of sovereignty had been stretched so far that the Executive was not only using it in the context of international relations but also seemed to believe that it had sovereignty over its citizenry as well. Sedition charges slapped indiscriminately on protestors must be seen in this backdrop. Democratic resistance was only way to challenge it, she said.
Usha said that the colonial ‘Good faith laws’ still in vogue ensured that action of the administration was usually seen as executed in good faith. The burden of proving that an act of the Executive, such as launching malicious prosecution or abuse of power, was in bad faith, fell on the victims. In certain cases, the process of initiating action against the administration for such acts needed the sanction of the same government, she said.
Lawyer R Vaigai said it had been time and again reiterated by the Supreme Court that charges of sedition could be applied only in extreme cases and mere protests could not be construed as sedition. Though the Constitution had provided provisions for reasonable restriction on fundamental rights of the citizens, sedition had not been included in such restrictions, she said.
Convenor of Campaign for Justice and Peace, Madhumita Dutta, said there was a consistency in the modus operandi behind putting down democratic protests in various parts of the country. Corporates, she said, acted as agents behind State reprisal and the incidents that took place around the Posco plant in Odisha, which was recently stayed by the National Green Tribunal, demonstrated this collusion.