JUBAIL, SAUDI ARABIA: Sedition charges for cheering a rival cricket team? India, the world’s largest democracy, looks small when it acts in this manner to stop its citizens from choosing what cricket team they can cheer for. However, eventually better sense prevailed and the UP government withdrew the sedition charges against over 67 Kashmiri students for cheering Pakistan’s victory over India in the Asia Cup, while watching the match in their university hostel in the UP city of Meerut. Interestingly, these students got admission to the university under the Prime Minister’s Scholarship Programme initiated in 2010 to win the hearts and minds of Kashmiris. So what’s the message that the university administration and the UP government sent to the people of Kashmir? That you are not welcome because you are not aligned with our thinking, our choices and our actions.
This is not the first time that Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code has been arbitrarily used against freedom of expression — earlier human rights activist Arundhati Roy and a Kashmiri leader, Syed Ali Geelani, faced sedition charges for speaking at a conference on the freedom of Kashmir. In my opinion, it’s not only the UP government which is the culprit for making a non-issue into an issue of national interest, but also action should be taken against the university administration, which didn’t bother to first internally investigate the whole sordid episode.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2014.