AFTERTHOUGHT

The Limits of Amnesty

The Limits of Amnesty
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The fine line between fighting for human rights and being seditious

ON 15 AUGUST, THE Bengaluru Police filed a First Information Report against the NGO Amnesty International. This happened after a discussion where cases of human rights abuses in Kashmir were to be highlighted degenerated into a shouting match between separatists and citizens concerned about the integrity of India. A case of sedition—probably one of the most serious offences against the state in India—has been made against the NGO. In turn, Amnesty has cried foul. ‘Merely organising an event to defend constitutional values is now being branded ‘anti-India’ and criminalised,’ it says.

Whether or not Amnesty is guilty of a crime is for the police to investigate and an appropriate court to determine. India is no banana republic and so the matter will reach the Judiciary in accordance with well-established legal processes. As for the Indian Constitution, the NGO appears not to have read it. Had it done so, it would have realised that the very freedom it claims to be defending—freedom of speech and expression, enshrined in Article 19—outlaws the kind of behaviour it has been party to. A 1963 amendment outlaws the advocacy of secession and puts reasonable restrictions on speech. If there are restraints on governments to keep them from interfering with certain freedoms of citizens, surely there are some reciprocal obligations on citizens as well. Advocating Kashmiri separatism—and the chants, slogans and songs at the Bengaluru event point in that direction—is hardly responsible behaviour.

There is not much that can be said in favour of Amnesty International and its operations in India. A former official of the NGO, Gita Sahgal, has accused it of supporting terror groups in India. The Union Home Ministry is probing accusations that Amnesty funnelled money from a group accused of gambling abroad into its work in India.

There are thousands of NGOs in India that go about their work peacefully and without fetters. But one must ask why some foreign organisations and a few Indian ones funded by foreign money wade so frequently into unacceptable territory. Supporting mala fide causes and giving voice to secessionist ideas is not social work. There is little doubt that the anti-sedition law has been abused in the past, but there is not one instance where the courts have not rectified the injustice meted out. Amnesty too shall get justice.