Synopsis: Recent charges of sedition against individuals have brought back focus to seditions law. The oppression of dissenters is more dangerous for society. It creates more division in society compared to seditious acts.
In Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar (1962), the Supreme Court defended the constitutional validity of sedition. It noted that it is a reasonable restriction on free speech as provided in Article 19(2) of the Constitution.
The court also made clear that an individual has the right to speak or write anything about the government. However, it should not result in inciting people to violence against the government.
Why does the sedition law need a relook?
In the Aseem Trivedi case, the Bombay High Court issued guidelines which the police must follow in a sedition case. These guidelines include an objective evaluation of the seditious material. By that police must form an opinion on whether the words and actions caused disaffection and disloyalty to the government. However, the law needs a relook due to the following reasons:
- Firstly, despite repetitive warnings to law enforcement agencies by courts, there is poor implementation of guidelines given by the court.
- Secondly, the recent reports show that the number of cases of sedition under Section 124A increased by 160%. Whereas the rate of conviction dropped to 3.3% in 2019 from 33.3% in 2016.
- Thirdly, in this social media age, information travels at a lightning speed, and Cyberbullies can easily trend wrong information. Any kind of misinformation can lead to public disorder.
- Fourthly, the U.K. abolished the offence of sedition in 2010. Whereas, India is still retaining the law given by the British Empire.
- Fifthly, various commissions have questioned the efficacy of such a law in the statute book. For instance, the Law Commission of India questioned how far it is justified to retain Section 124A.
What steps can be taken to deal with sedition?
Sedition laws will not be repealed anytime sooner. In the meantime, courts can adopt an approach that can balance the issue of National security and the right to speech.
- At present sedition is decided based on a content-based test that reviews only the text i.e. even if a written material not caused any social unrest, it can be held a seditious text based on the words used.
- Courts must adopt an effect-based test that examines the effects of the seditious text. It means whether the text resulted in violence or not.
- The principles of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity exists in the Preamble to our Constitution. Courts must uphold these principles.
It is not the alleged seditious acts that are creating fragments in our society; it is in fact the persecution of individuals and labelling them that are really creating cracks in our socio-political ecosystem.