|Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual introduction.
Body. How sedition law is an oppressive mechanism? Why it should be abolished? Need of continuation of Section 124A.
Conclusion. Way forward.
Sedition is an offence incorporated into the Section 124A of Indian Penal Code (IPC) in 1870. Section 124A of the IPC says that whoever by words either spoken or written or by signs attempts to bring into hatred or contempt or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law, has committed the offence of sedition. The offence is punishable with imprisonment for life.
Section 124A, IPC- an oppressive mechanism:
- According to the National Crime Records Bureau 35 cases of sedition (all over India) were reported in 2016. Many of these cases did not involve violence or incitement to violence. Figures reveal that in the two years preceding the JNU case, there were a total of 77 sedition cases.
- It is very often under criticism because Centre and the States have invoked the section against activists, detractors, writers and even cartoonist seeking to silence political dissent by accusing dissenters of promoting disaffection.
- It has been invoked against several public personalities, particularly those critical of the government such as against Assamese scholar, Dr. Hiren Gohain, for allegedly saying at a public meeting that demand for sovereignty might arise if the Centre ignores the voices of the Assamese people against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
- The main reason behind the continuation of Sedition act after independence was to prevent the misuse of free speech (reasonable restrictions) that would be aimed at inciting hatred and violence, but it is used to curb any dissent or criticism of government or government policies.
- Beyond the high-profile urban cases, the reach of Section 124-A has extended even to faraway places. An entire village in Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu had sedition cases slapped against it for resisting a nuclear power project.
- Instead of critically analysing why citizens, be they in Kashmir or Chhattisgarh or Bhima Koregaon, are driven to dissent, the government is using an iron-fist policy with the sedition law playing a leading role to completely shut out contrarian views.
Why it should be abolished?
- Colonial tool: It was introduced by the British to suppress the freedom struggle and its existence at present is not justified. Britain itself abolished it 10 years ago, then why India still have the section alive.
- Inconsistent with international conventions: India ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and misuse of sedition law under Section 124A and the arbitrary slapping of charges are inconsistent with the ICCPR.
- Against freedom of speech: Section 124A has been invoked against activists, detractors, writers and even cartoonists on several occasions to suppress their freedom of speech and expression. Article 19 (1) of Indian constitution provides freedom of speech as a fundamental right. Section 124A is against Article 19 (1).
- Improper definition: As pointed by the Law Commission of India, is that the definition of sedition does not take into consideration disaffection towards (a) the Constitution, (b) the legislatures, and (c) administration of justice, all of which would be as disastrous to the security of the State.
Need of continuation of Section 124A:
- Misuse of freedom of speech: Freedom of speech although is protected through Article 19 (1) but it is not unlimited. Sometimes speech is used as a tool to destabilise country polity and to promote enmity in society. The main reason behind the continuation of Sedition act after independence was to prevent the misuse of free speech (reasonable restrictions) that would be aimed at inciting hatred and violence.
- Internal security: Maoist insurgency and rebel groups virtually run a parallel administration, it would be dangerous to abolish it. These groups openly advocate the overthrow of the state government by revolution. Thus keeping section 124A is important for Indian security.
- Destabilising polity: Sometimes, propaganda and facts are modified and used to destabilise the country’s peace and polity by deliberately targeting government actions.
- In 1962, the Supreme Court decided on the constitutionality of Section 124A in Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar. It upheld the constitutionality of sedition, but limited its application to acts involving intention or tendency to create disorder, or disturbance of law and order, or incitement to violence. It distinguished these from “very strong speech” or the use of “vigorous words” strongly critical of the government.
- Similarly, in 1995, the Supreme Court, in Balwant Singh v State of Punjab, held that mere sloganeering which evoked no public response does not amount to sedition, for which a more overt act was required. Thus, the Supreme Court has consistently held that for the offence of sedition to be satisfied, there has to be a causal relationship between speech and acts of violence, and mere speech, regardless of how subversive it is, does not amount to sedition.
- Every irresponsible exercise of the right to free speech and expression cannot be termed seditious. While it is essential to protect national integrity, it should not be misused as a tool to curb free speech.
- Dissent and criticism are essential ingredients of a robust public debate on policy issues as part of a vibrant democracy. Therefore, every restriction on free speech and expression must be carefully scrutinised to avoid unwarranted restrictions.
Freedom of Speech and Expression is a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a). Article 19(2) imposed reasonable restrictions. To call for the overthrow of a stale and fearful social system is not sedition. To uphold the idea of democracy that the founders of the Constitution envisioned, India should deliberately avoid using the word sedition from its statute books and everyday vocabulary. Hoping that reason prevails over politics when it comes to freedom.