by Vinod Narayanan
“I may not agree with what you say but I will defend your right to say it.”
Words by Voltaire the great French Writer will be echoed in the air where the spirit of Liberty exists.
The Kerala Police (Amendment) Act 2020 which is prevailed through an ordinance by Kerala Government is a sure hit at the freedom of speech and expression. The State Government initially backed the act by heralding that the inclusion of Section 118 A will protect the vulnerable creed from defamation and Cyber Bullying. We have to agree with the point that defamation of any person or cyberbullying to aim at Character Assassination is an immoral activity done by unscrupulous citizens who should be hand-cuffed immediately, but that should not be an excuse for draining the ink from critics or muting the voice of opposition.
In Malayalam, there is a phrase which means “We should not burn the whole house to kill a rat (pest)”. The State Administration falls in line with the above phrase while dealing with the problem of Cyberattacks. Having strong law against character-assassination should not be at the cost of a Citizen’s constitutional right to speak and write.
Section 118A prescribes a three-year prison for anyone who publishes anything that is abusing, humiliating, or threatening of a person or class of persons, knowing it to be false and that causes injury to the mind, reputation, or property of such person or class of persons or any other person in whom they have interest shall on conviction. Section 118A, if passed into law, would have empowered the police to take cognizance of the offence of defamation and similar offences, which were until then non-cognisable.
The Words in the amendment is exclusive and wide in scope, since it does not specifically say about cyber or social media, thus the Law can add more power to the State for dissenting the voice of its critics.
Altogether this amendment is not only draconic but unconstitutional. Criminal law comes under the first item of the concurrent list in the Constitution. Police come under the State list. So the State Government has Constitutional power to organize, control, and administer the State Police force, but it is not empowered under the Constitution to alter provisions of Indian Penal Code or procedures of Criminal Procedure Code, it is reserved for the Parliament and an exception is allowed by taking the consent of the Honourable President of India. Any act or decision taken against the procedure will be an act under ‘Doctrine of Repugnancy’.
While analysing why the Kerala Government vehemently favours the ordinance (which they revoked later due to pressure from civil right group a and opposition political parties) raise some questions about having a hidden or original intention behind the Law.
The Administration has been facing many allegations and top brass are still groping in dark to find answers. These allegations severely impacted the Lok Sabha Polls. State assembly elections are proclaimed to be conducted next year and local authority elections are going on.
Kerala State Government has been presented itself as a progressive, liberal and logical Administration, in actual circumstances the Government was always selective in nature. Allegations about the involvement of top officials of the Government in Gold Smuggling with infamous Mafia based in the Middle East has been raised in both Social and MainStream media.
CPIM’s State Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s son Bineesh Kodiyeri was arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau, over suspected links with drug peddling.
The Kerala Public Service Commission had a history of being neutral and merit-based while selecting candidates starting from its resurrection till a year back. Now it is just a back door from the Party Office for the Party workers to infiltrate into Government Jobs. Kerala Police Selection test rank holders who were SFI leaders and caught for causing grievous hurt to a fellow college mate have confessed themselves that the result of the Police test was the fruit of their loyalty towards the Party. There are other reported incidents of such back door entry.
The Foreign visit by State Ministers to the Netherlands for studying Water Management and Dam infrastructure management to avoid future flood situations was controversial. The ministers went with family members and more to be seen as a leisure trip rather than a technical study visit. When a journalist asked about the expense incurred for accompanying family members with the ministers, Silence was the answer. This information is also not made available under the Right to Information Act, when seeking the information “Collating the Data ” is the reply we get. Citizens have all the right to know how their hard-earned tax money in the exchequer is going to be used. Secondly taking the technical side of the trip, no alterations have been made in the Water Control and Dam Management. Kerala has been subject to frequent flood.
The so-called “Kerala Model” in COVID 19 spread. Any model or policy can be termed as efficient if it is consistent, in recent months it is seen that the Kerala Model was a self-boosted House of Cards.
These issues are widely discussed in media and Social networks. In social media, there are both actual news and fake non-senses on all sides. Currently, Local authority election campaigns are going on and the State Assembly elections are at the doorsteps. With the insensitivity showed by the State Governance towards the Sabarimala issue has tarnished the image, the pathetic performance in Lok Sabha results has made the Government rethink their stance.
During the Sabarimala issue, mainstream media supported the Kerala Government but in Social media, things were in a different mode. Staunch supporters of the Government wrote against the insensitivity shown. Such coverage in Social media has helped people to raise a negative image towards the Government and resulted in losing 19 Lok Sabha seats to Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).
The State Government by all means wanted to avoid similar incidents in the coming elections, so they are spending money for Public relations and advertising activities and in the name of Cyber Bullying they may want to silence the people from talking about the allegations. Similar incidence could be traced down in Communist-ruled. Nations and states. But the CPIM of Kerala gets to know that Keralites are not the people of China or North Korea. They will oppose and Protest.
CPIM Central Committee’s views against the implementation of this amendment are laudable, and welcome the Kerala Government decided to revoke the ordinance finally. The chaos and protests could be avoided if the left led Government showed some maturity before considering this law.
The Chief Minister of Kerala should remember the words from State Song “Kerala Geetham”.
“Sarva Swathanthra Sama sthithi dhayakam”
means “Land (Kerala) of coveted freedom which gives equal status to all.”
About the Author:
Vinod Narayanan is a Civil Service Aspirant, a former IT Professional, and a law graduate who conducts freelance research in the subject ‘National Movements’. He has received Gujarat Sahithya Academy award ‘Certificate of Appreciation’ for his works.