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April 2020 - June 2022

I am a Research Associate at The Sarai Programme at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi (CSDS) currently assessing judicial cases of misinformation, those that are filed against Indian journalists and media organisations. Prior to this, I worked on a case study of the evolution of evidence in crimes against the State as part of the law and media module (TM7) of M.S. Merian – R. Tagore International Centre of Advanced Studies ‘Metamorphoses of the Political’ (ICAS:MP). The project entailed analysis of over a hundred criminal cases filed under Chapter VI—‘Of Offences Against the State’, Section 121 to Section 130—of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The project studied these laws from its onset to its current disposition, with material evidence at the centre of the analysis. I was also a team member for the Sedition Database project undertaken by National Law University, Delhi. I also hold the position of Semantic Legal Analyst at IndianKanoon, a free legal database wherein I train models for machine learning as an attempt to make judicial information accessible to the general public.

From the onset of the colonial law of sedition i.e. dissent, speech or utterances have been recorded, circulated, taken offence of and finally transcribed and adjudicated by the courts. With the emergence of new media technology such as mobile phones capable of accessing highly interactive social media platforms, new-media material has emerged as a necessary condition for charging any crime under ‘Crimes against the State’. Through a case study of over eighty cases based on speech/utterances and filed under a combination of sections under Chapter VI of IPC (with special focus on the law of sedition), The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA) and The Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act), the project aims to draw attention towards various procedural documents and materials that are imperative and prerequisite for case initiation, and throughout the lives of the case and the defendant. A series of observed patterns among these cases significantly imply that the law of public speech-based offences—against the State—is contingent on various media infrastructures, formal and informal, be it inside the courtroom or in the larger public domain.

 

For accumulating information and case material, I relied on manual Twitter scraping, through using the ‘advanced search’ option and following parties involved in the case on other social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Reddit, where speech and discussion around the speech act and the judicial proceeding take place. Since these cases are often subject to public spectacles, it was important to track social media discussions, which also in many circumstances became the go to place to gain access to case material. Certain hashtags such as ‘#DelhiRiots’, ‘#Antinational’, ‘#Deshdrohi’, ‘#Sedition’ were also followed and tracked for the same reason. Police Twitter handles were also followed to get updates on the arrest and bail cycles. To assess the veracity of viral videos, I also referred to fact-checking organisations and individuals present on Twitter. However, ultimately the veracity of evidence is analysed by the court during adjudication.

 

News media websites were relied on to get live updates on court hearings and timeline of the case with special focus on legal websites like Bar and Bench and LiveLaw India using their free version and paid subscription. To access legal documents, I used the court copy feature on Indiankanoon.org. This is a premium feature and was used through paid subscription. I also set up multiple queries on IndianKanoon and Twitter to get updates on cases I was following, since after a point of time actual reporting stops for cases that do not involve popular personalities like Umar Khalid—arrested for the anti-CAA protests—or Gautam Navlakha—arrested for the Bhima Koregaon incident.

 

I was also briefly part of the Sedition Database Team at Article 14 (as a qualitative data analyst) wherein I gained access to a large number of case initiation documents such as the First Information Report (FIR). I provided categorisation and analysis techniques to the database, such as adding the category of ‘bystander videos’ and ‘complainant’. I also published a piece with Article 14, wherein I analysed these cases in detail. Around the same time, I also started reading police training manuals for electronic evidence collection and admissibility of electronic records. This helped in understanding how and what is seized at the time of the FIR and during investigation. My research also examined newspaper reports, academic articles, interviews with the persons charged and other forms of media coverage. This was important to understand the ‘facts’—or the speech event—of the case from different perspectives - the police narrative, various media wings, the complainants and ultimately the defendants. The aim was to collect and categorise different media technologies that emerge as evidence and the speeches that are deemed to be ‘seditious’ or ‘anti-national’. Right from the onset of a case, how the alleged speech is explained in the complaint, both in terms of content and the form, for example the video URL, screenshot of the social media post or mobile phone in which the bystander video is recorded, FIR, the chargesheet and how it is finally analysed by the courts according to landmark precedents. This is done to bring transparency in these procedures that are otherwise drowned in the endless paper burden of the judiciary and generally not reported for sub-judice reasons. The legality of the speech was not the focal point and was done in the background to understand the judicial perspective—every charge under IPC contains certain necessary ingredients that are required to meet for conviction. This analysis is done through a series of research notes wherein a deeper dive is taken in analysing each case and the material that was obtained. In doing so, this project aspires to demonstrate how the law of crimes against the state has been mediatized historically.

 

Media Articles:

“How Police Use Unverified Videos To Allege Sedition.” Article 14, August 27, 2021. https://article-14.com/post/how-police-use-unverified-videos-to-allege-sedition-61284dcc12bac

Research Collections

This research collection was built between April 2020 and June 2022 and supported by the collaboration between The Sarai Programme at CSDS and ICAS:MP on Thematic Module 7 (TM7) entitled ‘Media and the Constitution of the Political’. 

 

This collection is constructed to examine the laws of crimes against the State—Chapter VI of the Indian Penal Code—in India through media evidence involved in judicial cases. For this purpose, it contains copies of various forms of documentation surrounding the legislative, executive and adjudication process of a criminal charge. Evidentiary subject matter includes traditional material such as articles, audio-video clips of speech, journals, slogans, cartoons and contemporary material such as tweets, viral videos and social media posts and interactions involved in the case. Judicial material includes complaints, FIRs, chargesheets including notices, petitions, warrants, and adjudication documents such as sanctions, bail orders, other orders and the judgements delivered by the courts. 

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