Indian Writer Charged with Sedition for Facebook Post

Akash Vashishtha
New Delhi
2016-12-19
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161219-IN-flag-1000 Schoolchildren hold the Indian flag and sing the national anthem during a celebration of Republic Day in Mumbai, Jan. 26, 2016.
AFP

Indian writers Monday slammed police for charging a regional language author with sedition over a social media post that allegedly insulted the national anthem.

Police in the southern state of Kerala filed sedition charges on Sunday against Malayalam language writer Kamal C. Chavara – popularly known as Kamalsy Prana – two days after he posted a controversial excerpt from his novel, Smashanangalude Nottupustakam, on Facebook. Malayalam is a language spoken in Kerala.

The charge against Prana came amid growing resentment over an order issued by India’s Supreme Court on Nov. 30 that makes it mandatory for movie theaters to play the national anthem before every screening and for all audience members to stand.

The excerpt from his book mentioned a situation at a school where teachers barred students from using the restroom during class. The students were made to recite the national anthem once the class ended, and that meant they could go to the restroom.

“What he [Prana] posted was something that came out of a young and immature writer. His post about urinating is indeed offensive, but certainly does not amount to sedition,” renowned Indian author and columnist Shobha De told BenarNews.

At least 20 people have since been arrested for defying the order from the Supreme Court, which has given right-wing groups affiliated to India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) an opportunity to aggressively further the party’s nationalist agenda, according to observers.

Twelve of those arrests as well as the action against Prana occurred in Kerala, which is ruled by the left-wing Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), a BJP spokesman said.

“The national anthem is not just connected with the BJP. It pertains to the entire country. There should not be any discussion on this. We are a nationalist party, which is interested in carrying out development and take the country forward,” BJP’s Bizay Sonkar Shastri told BenarNews.

Police: ‘We had simply called him’

In subsequent posts on Facebook, Prana said he was arrested and released only after he posted bail.

Police denied placing Prana under arrest.

“He was not arrested. We had simply called him to the police station and questioned him regarding his Facebook post. He was allowed to go after we recorded his statement,” S. Sateesh Bino, police chief of Kerala’s Kollam city, told BenarNews.

Charges of sedition were brought against Prana after seeking legal opinion, Bino said, adding that a BJP worker brought the complaint against the writer.

“We are still investigating the matter, and these charges could be modified or removed,” he said.

Efforts to contact Prana failed.

While criticizing the sedition case against him, Prana told the Indian Express on Monday: “Police are depicting me as a terrorist. I had mentioned in my novel what schoolchildren do when the national anthem is being sung. Dubbing comments in the novel disrespectful to the national anthem, police have slapped the sedition charge against me.”

It is sad that Indian citizens are being forced to respect the national anthem, author Preeti Shenoy said.

“I feel bad about the case filed against him. Nobody said anything when his novel was published. But now that he has posted an extract from the book after the [Supreme Court] order, he is being treated like a criminal,” Shenoy told BenarNews.

“You can’t force someone to respect the national anthem. Respect has to come from within, or else it ends up fanning resentment,” she said.

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