Law of Sedition: Justice is the removal of a Colonial Law


“Sedition is a term that can vary in severity of meaning as power and social conditions change”.

-Dr. Binayak Sen

Every citizen has been given freedom to speak and express their views under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. However, this freedom is not absolute and some reasonable restrictions have been imposed on freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(2). But when a person does an act by his words, signs or representation which is held to be contemptuous towards the Government of India, then such act is punishable under section 124-A of Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code deals with treason law. Article 113 of the Penal Code, written by Lord Macaulay in 1837-39 is the epitome of treason law. Article 124A states that “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government ”[1]. At the same time, the sub-sections state that any legal rejection of the administrative action of the Government and any attempt to bring about a change in such action shall not constitute a reason for the enactment of this Act.

The Anti-Sedition law is essential to protect and preserve the stability of the Government and to prevent speech and expression that aims to cause public disorder and punish rebel groups, like the Maoists who creates hostile activities and insurgencies. Moreover the Government of India is an official authority provided for in the Constitution and established by law. Therefore, there must be restrictions on expressing unnecessary contempt or ridiculing the Government beyond certain limits. If contempt of court invites penal action, then contempt of the Government should too.

The Supreme Court has ruled that criticism of government policies and attitudes is not treason, except in the form of dissent and opposition to the country’s systemic policies. Justice Deepak Gupta, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court remarked “The most beautiful aspect of democracy is that the people have nothing to fear from the government and People should be able to express their views without fear about those in power”. Speaking at a workshop for lawyers in Ahmedabad on September 2019, Deepak Gupta said that using treason charges to suppress the voice of the people was against the basic principles that the freedom fighters had acquired for us.

In an interview, Justice Rajinder Sachar pointed out that in a democratic country, a citizen has the right to express dissent against the government and to nurture it and bring down the government in the next election. The Supreme Court ruled in 1997 in the case of Bilal Ahmed Kalu and in the case of Bilwant Singh in 1995 that the mystery of treason was not dissent but violent acts of sabotage. Last October, an Uttarakhand court observed in a case against journalist Umesh Sharma that dissent in a democracy should always be treated with respect and that eliminating dissent under the sedition law would weaken democracy.

Sedition law is currently being abused to silence political opponents and eliminate health criticisms of government policies. It is noteworthy that the Supreme Court chief justice NV Ramana asked the Center government whether the same law used to silence Gandhi should continue? Many journalists, cultural leaders, writers, activists, student leaders and politicians in the country have been jailed for treason for opposing government policies. As per the Kedar Nath judgment in 1962 [2], the sedition law was supposed to be applied in rare instances where the security and sovereignty of the country is threatened. This issue was recently highlighted by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud while restraining the Andhra Pradesh government from taking adverse action against two Telugu news channels booked under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Justice Chandrachud remarked, “Everything cannot be seditious. It is time we define what is sedition and what is not.”

However, there are growing instances to show that this law has been weaponized as a handy tool against political rivals, to suppress dissent and free speech and expression. As per the latest data presented by Article 14, as many as 25 sedition cases were filed after the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests, 22 after the Hathras gang rape, and 27 after the Pulwama incident. In all, 96 percent of the sedition cases filed against 405 Indians over the last decade were registered after 2014. Further, the data provided by National Crime Records Bureau indicates that sedition cases have risen from 47 in 2014 to 93 in 2019, a massive 163 percent jump.

The BJP central and state governments have charged hundreds of people with sedition. Cartoonist Azeem Trivedi was charged under Section 124A of IPC during a rally of Anti-Corruption crusader Anna Hazare in Mumbai, he had been accused of putting up banners mocking the constitution and posting the same on his website. Even before Modi, the Indian government used the sedition law as a way to suppress democratic popular protests. The government has charged sedition about 8,000 village people who took part in the Kudankulam agitation. Binayak Sen, He was a pediatrician by profession and was allegedly supporting Naxalites, For which he was charged with Sedition by Chhattisgarh Government[3] and Arundhati Roy were among the victims of this colonial law. Patriots are only those who support their policies. The position of the Central Government and many State Governments is that all those who disagree are traitors. In fact, it is criticism and dissent that make democracy vital and meaningful.

The British government, which enacted the sedition law in India, repealed the law permanently in their country in 1977, according to a law commission report. Claire Ward, under secretary of the British Justice Department, said at the time that the move was a step in the right direction. Many other countries, including New Zealand, have repealed sedition laws. Protests are on the rise in countries such as Australia and Malaysia, where treason is punishable under the Penal Code. Yet it is paradoxical and shameful that it still exists in a democratic India. Because the purpose of restricting speech under Sedition Act is the protection of National Security. Sedition laws should be interpreted and applied according to the guidelines given by the Supreme Court[4]. If treason law determines the security of a country, then it is not a democratic society. That is why the people are creating a new country against fascist government.

References :-
[1] Section 124A of IPC, 1860.
[2] Kedarnath Singh v. State of Bihar 1962.
AIR 1962, SC 955 Supreme Court, 5 Judges
[3] Dr. Binayak Sen v. State of Chattisgarh 2011.
[4] The great repression ; The story of sedition in India – Chitranshul Sinha.

An aspiring researcher in principles of Islamic Science at WIRAS, India. Currently, he is pursuing an integrated professional course in Law. His interest areas include Religious Studies and International Relations.

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