Assam has topped the list of Indian states, registering cases under ‘offences against the state’ segment, including sedition charges, according to the latest report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
The revelation of the NCRB data has drawn sharp criticism from the opposition and legal experts, who alleged that the BJP-led Assam government is using stringent provisions of law to “suppress the voice of dissent” with the help of a “police raj”.
According to the NCRB report, Assam registered a total of 35 cases of ‘offences against the state’ against 36 persons in 2021.
In the ‘offences against the state’ segment, the NCRB has included five Indian Penal Code sections. These are 124A (sedition), 121 (waging or attempting to wage war), 121A (conspiracy to commit offences punishable by section 121), 122 (collecting arms to wage war) and 123 (concealing to facilitate design to wage war).
In May this year, the Supreme Court had put on hold the penal law under Section 124A of the IPC.
Last year, Assam registered three sedition cases against three persons, while it lodged 32 FIRs under the other four IPC sections and named 33 persons in those, NCRB said.
Assam is followed by Andhra Pradesh with 30 cases of ‘offences against the state’, Jammu and Kashmir with 13 cases and Manipur with 10 cases. The numbers of such cases registered by the rest of the states and union territories are in single digits.
Reacting to the NCRB data, Leader of the Opposition Debabrata Saikia said that there are many examples in the state where sedition cases have been slapped for simple offences.
“The Assam government did not follow Supreme Court guidelines in registering such cases. The BJP government in Assam has unleashed a police raj in the state and harassing people unnecessarily,” he told PTI.
Mr Saikia, a senior Congress leader, claimed that the conviction rate of such cases is very low in the state though it has filed the highest number of cases.
“This is really unfortunate that Assam Police is being used for political reasons. Even the DGP occasionally makes some unacceptable comments, which are not within the law. It is because they have political patronage,” he said.
Raijor Dal president and MLA Akhil Gogoi claimed that most of the cases registered for ‘offences against the state’ are related to public comments made on social media like Facebook.
“People are being booked for even simple criticism of the government. The police files sedition cases more when someone criticises communalism and failure of the economy. However, the chief minister many times later ordered the withdrawal of some cases,” he added.
Mr Gogoi, who is facing 22 sedition cases since BJP came to power in Assam in 2016 along with a number of UA(P)A and other stringent provisions for his street activism over the years, alleged that common people’s complaints are taken as “anti-national”.
“This is the age of fascism under the BJP rule. If most cases against the state are filed in Assam in the age of fascism, this means that the people of the state are most aware in the country,” he asserted.
CPI(M)’s Assam State Secretary Suprakash Talukdar said that the present government has become “very vindictive” and apply sedition cases even in “tentative cases” without analysing the offences properly.
“The government has become more intolerant, this is the main reason. We have also seen a lot of such cases against the alleged jehadi elements. But what is the fate of those cases? Were those accused convicted?” asked Suprakash Talukdar.
Gauhati High Court Advocate Santanu Borthakur told PTI that he has seen usage of such stringent cases more in the last few years, especially after 2016 when BJP came to power in Assam for the first time.
“The trend of criminalising the dissenting voice is rising. Even comments made on social media are termed seditious and people are jailed. The NCRB data shows that the state is weaponising the laws to suppress the voice of dissent,” he added.
On the other hand, advocate Bijon Mahajan supported filing of the cases under ‘offences against the state’ sections and said that the Assam government is on the right track.
“Most of these cases are against the jehadis. These activities have to be curbed at any cost and the state is right in filing such cases against them,” said Mr Mahajan, who is also a BJP member.