Friday, 2 September 2011

Seditious on Wheels

It was around 9am in the morning. I was in a second class compartment on Jaipur express, headed back towards home i.e. Bangalore. The train hurtled at a heady speed with loud clangs over rhythmic roar; kaleidoscopic greens and browns rushed past the open windows. It was monsoon time. And, I was full of excitement and hidden laughter at what I was about to do.

Gowru and I were returning from a national meet of People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), held in Jaipur. Recently PUCL had launched a nationwide campaign of collecting a million signatures from across the country to support of its petition of repealing the Sedition Law to be presented in the winter session of the Parliament. Gowru and I had decided to inform, educate and seek support for this signature campaign on this train.  We had some empty sheets of paper, a long lined notebook, a couple of pamphlets with additional information,a few copies of the petition itself, a few pens etc. We intended to be seditious - that is, proclaim disaffection towards a law of this land, which criminalizes verbal or vocal expression of disaffection towards the State. Our stand was simple - we were free and would not allow ourselves to be subjugated by a defunct old relic of the British Raj - the law of Sedition, IPC 124(a).

The results first - we had an incredible success! Over the next day and a half, we collected more than a thousand signatures - from a variety of people, rich, poor, young, old, men, women, educated to those with absolutely no skills in reading or writings, from migratory labor to IT professionals. We roamed the entire length of the train and got signatures from ticket collectors (TTs), staff of the pantry car, security officials. With each and every adult on this train we sat down, made eye contact, smiled, spoke in great earnestness and sincerity on issues of freedom, right to expression, issues of democracy and its challenges, and the ideals of a truly free society. We spoke up against fears, collective good, the struggle and satisfaction of a righteous act. We touched on subjects of development, and its sacrifices - and those who bear the burden of this development. We spoke and people listened, interacted, expressed, communicated - showed anger, laughed, pondered and invariably signed. Many wanted to support the campaign on internet (, some others also wanted to become PUCL members or start their own new PUCL chapters.

The exercise had turned out to be far more than just an act of collecting signatures. It was a lesson for me in the high value of human relations, and in the power of expressing rational free thought. We were uniformly received with courtesy, openness and warmth. Many thanked us well for our efforts, some even insisted on feeding us. I learnt that I would never again write off the people of this nation as less intelligent, apathetic, subservient, self-serving or lacking imagination. I glimpsed the enormous possibility for change and saw first hand the scope of hope. In open engagement with hundreds of people, I found myself lacking to not have known them better before - to have not bothered to really know Us.


  1. Kavita Srivastava3 September 2011 at 09:58

    Dear Arti,

    Great Work. It requires precisely that. To dialogue with "other". To reach out to as many. congratulations!!


  2. Thanks! I agree Kavita, no matter how much Kabir I sing, I forget our
    oneness with depressing regularity.