Threatening the right to speech or securing the Government?
India has been experiencing some unprecedented events for a while, be it imprisonment for a simple post on Instagram, questioning the government, or the climate change effects. In February, an 11-year old’s mother and teacher were arrested on the charges of Sedition, for speaking against the Prime Minister of India and the CAA, in a school play. As reported by the National Crime Record Bureau, sedition cases have skyrocketed since 2014. In 2019, around 3,300 farmers for land disputes and in January another 3,000 protestors against CAA were charged with sedition. Our constitution is largely based on the UK’s constitution, and it was they who first introduced sedition. The UK revoked it’s sedition law in 2009.
Understanding Sedition :
The Indian Penal Code in Section 124A explains sedition “ whoever by words, either spoken or written or by signs, or by visible representations, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection by the government established by law in India shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to 3 years, to which fine may be added, or with fine”. While interpreting the law, and imposing sedition, as per the Supreme Court, one needs to understand that,
- Here the words “Government established by law” means the existing political system as distinguished from any set of administration. The people sitting in the seats running the country are not for ruling, but to serve the nation. As Nandita Rao, Delhi HC advocate explains – “The Supreme Court, in its interpretation of Section 124A, clearly says that it has to be against the state, not against the government. I can criticize the BJP, I can criticize Congress, I can criticize Mamata Banerjee, I can criticize the Communist parties. That is not sedition.”
- In the first-ever case Queen-Empress vs Jagendra Chunder Bose, the Chief Justice explained that – “the Disaffection means a feeling contrary to affection; in other words, dislike or hatred. Disapprobation means simply disapproval. It is quite possible to disapprove of a man’s sentiments or action and yet to like him.”
How did Sedition come into existence?
In the colonial rule, the Law Commission headed by T.B Macaulay was responsible for drafting the Indian Penal Code, a document stating the punishment for all crimes, which was enacted in 1860. Many draconian laws were written under the British, one such being the Section 124A of the IPC. There’s some evidence that it was brought to thwart the uprising Wahabi movement. It was used to stop and terrorize the voices that spoke against the inhumane activities of the British Government. There is the notable case of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, wherein he was imprisoned thrice under sedition. Mahatma Gandhi was also arrested for his provocative writings in his paper, Young India. Gandhi Ji in his statement said:
“Section 124 A, under which I am happily charged, is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen. Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. If one has no affection for a person or system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote, or incite to violence.”
Gandhi’s words clearly explain how the wordings of the law are problematic, and breaches Article 19 of the Constitution, that assures every citizen’s right to expression.
RELEVANCE OF SEDITION LAWS IN INDIA
Should Sedition be repealed or not?
Surprisingly, the sedition laws brought by the Britishers, to curb the voice of freedom fighters in colonial India, still exist and are used for the same purpose in a democratic country as well. Notwithstanding the fact that it not only contradicts the right to expression, laid down in the Constitution, but also widely misused to shut anyone interrogating the policies of the government. The Supreme Courts’ various judgments on such cases assure that. The Supreme Court has also put forward some mandatory guidelines, under which Sedition should be applied. Kedar Nath Singh’s case 1962, has been extremely significant in this context. Supreme Court in this case recognized that :
“It is also well settled that in interpreting an enactment the court should have regard not merely to the literal meaning of the words used, but also to take into consideration the antecedent history of the legislation, its purpose, and the mischief it seeks to suppress.”
Any words that do not incite violence but result in incarceration are undemocratic, says the SC. Deepak Gupta, an SC judge conveyed that Section 124A should be read in accordance with Article 19 of the Constitution.
The misuse of Sedition occurs at the hands of police who might act on the order of people in power since they are accountable to political bosses, not law and judiciary. Thus people become prey to its abuse. Although they might get bail from the court the next day, they have to suffer from the odious imprisonment, which damages their image. Even Justice Gurtu exclaimed it was possible for people who legitimately and peaceably criticize the Government to be caught in “the mischief of Section 124-A of the Penal Code”.
For this reason, he said it should be invalidated. In Aseem Trivedi’s cartoon case, Shreya Singhal case, Arun Jaitley’s sedition case due to Facebook post criticizing SC judgment, Balwant Singh case, Amnesty International case for so-called ‘anti-national slogans’, Binayak Sen case, courts have been continuously opined that mere disagreement and criticism of the government policies or the government, and not inciting violence or public disorder does not account for Sedition. As far as the concern of Maoist insurgencies, Section 505, and Section 153A of IPC are there to deal with crimes for inciting hatred or riots.
Talking about how effectively sedition laws have been in India, NCRB reported that from 2014 to 2016, 179 people were arrested and 112 sedition cases filed with only 2 of the cases resulting in conviction, while only four trials in the last four years. It is easy to understand that when a law is extensively misused, abolishing is the right thing before it becomes an instrument of oppression, and violation of human rights. The words “attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection” are quite vague in its understanding of the offense, which gives rise to the abuse. Any feeling or words of the disaffection of government executives is not equivalent to the disaffection of the government.
They are put in that place to serve the nation, not be mere rulers on the throne. India committed to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, international standards for safeguarding freedom of expression) in 1979. But sedition’s wide misuse does not conform with its international commitments. The Law Commission’s report outlined that Sedition should be abolished before its tenure ended. Their report turns out bootless as the government denied abolishing it anytime soon, to protect the nation from “anti-national, secessionist elements”. Ne needs to understand that misuse of this is plausible and be a benefactor for turning upside down a democracy. Considering the vagueness of laws wording, history, and misuse, SC judge Deepak Gupta’s opinion of at least toning down the law if not abolishing it seems righteous to secure the democratic country.
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