Sedition – is its time up?

Imagine being punished every time you spoke disagreeing to something your parents/elders/siblings say. Sounds unfair, right? Dissent is the penultimate sword to wade through the tough corridors of power that affect the masses.

Sedition is mentioned in section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. It is a non bailable offence committed when any person brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law by – words, either spoken or written; signs; visible representation or otherwise.

Sedition is rightly called an archaic law, as it dates back to the 19th century era. It was originally drafted in 1837 by Thomas Macaulay, the British historian-politician, but was not included when Indian penal code was enacted in 1860. Later on in 1870, it was enforced when Sir James Stephen introduced an amendment. This was basically supported by the then British governments as it helped to suppress the voices of dissent.

Greatest of leaders like Lokmanya Tilak, Annie Besant, Mahatma Gandhi were arrested and imprisoned under the draconian law. Founding fathers of constitution like Dr. Ambedkar had thanked the rebels i.e. the dissenting and disagreeing voices of leaders who gave valid criticism and enough room for debate, in his constitution debate speeches.

Even today, we see journalists and activists around the world facing repression. Countries like North Korea, china censor what the news channels televise. World press freedom index by reporters without borders has ranked china 177th in the world for jailing journalists. India ranks 142, which isn’t very impressive either.

India being a practising democracy must never lose the sight of maintaining its ideals. Recently, the law commission, in 2018, had published a consultation paper recommending that it’s time we must do away with the law of sedition. Instead, it has suggested that we must criminalise only those acts under sedition which disrupt public order or those that are to overthrow the government with violence. The government further has the option of the UAPA Act, 1967 to declare organisations and people as terrorist/unlawful that intend to disrupt sovereignty and integrity of India.

The State still prefers to not strike down 124A as it is meant to protect the state itself, as was propounded in the case of Kedar Nath vs State of Bihar, 1962. But it added a caveat that a person could be prosecuted under the section only for disturbing/intending to disturb public peace and order. On an international level, India has ratified the international convention on civil and political rights (ICCPR), and must repeal sedition law or at least tweak it to conform to its duty to ensure civil and political rights to its citizens.

1-2 out of 70 cases of sedition in last 5 years have led to conviction. The filing of such cases is sometimes for revenge other times for political combats. The utility of this section is not seen and is redundant with other criminal laws of India. There needs to be clarity on the meaning of sedition in today’s time and era.

And finally, it is being suggested that all speech related crimes be made bailable offences as no one must be harassed in the name of exercising the fundamental right under article 19 (1) (a) . Indian soil has been witness to great revolts, uprisings, wars for peace, equality, freedom. A country like ours must have no space for repression in the garb of law.

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

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