The Tamil Nadu government must immediately release Dalit folk singer and activist S Sivadas, popularly known by his stage name Kovan, who was arrested on 30 October over two satirical songs criticizing the state government and chief minister. Kovan faces charges including sedition, provocation with intent to cause a riot and public mischief.
“It is absurd for the Tamil Nadu government to arrest someone essentially for making fun of it. By arresting Kovan for sedition, the state government is sending the message that any criticism of the chief minister and government policies will not be tolerated”, said Abhirr VP, Campaigner at Amnesty International India.
“All Indians should be free to criticize their government. The Tamil Nadu government must respect Kovan’s constitutional right to freedom of expression and drop all charges against him.”
Kovan heads the cultural wing of the Makkal Kalai Ilakkiya Kazhagam, or People’s Art and Literary Association, a 30-year-old group in Tamil Nadu which performs folk songs and street plays on socio-economic issues.
He was arrested over the lyrics of two songs, ‘Moodu Tasmac Moodu’ and and ‘Ooruku oru Sarayam’. The songs, whose videos were uploaded to the internet, call for the Tamil Nadu government to close government-run alcohol shops in the state. A line in one song says that the state chief minister was rejoicing while people were dying from alcoholism.
A Saravanan, a spokesperson of the organization, told Amnesty International India, “The government is harassing and intimidating us so that we stop our work. Kovan was only trying to show how alcohol is destroying the lives of many people in the state. We will challenge the arrest and ensure that our work continues”.
India’s archaic sedition law, which criminalizes any act or attempt “to bring into hatred or contempt, or…excite disaffection towards the government” has been used on several occasions by state governments to harass journalists and activists. The law violates international standards on freedom of expression.
In August, the Maharashtra state government issued a circular which suggested that speech against a government representative would amount to sedition. The circular was withdrawn in October following widespread criticism.
“The sedition law must be urgently repealed. Public officials should have a thicker skin to dissent and criticism, and not keep rushing to lock up their critics,” said Abhirr V P.