The law of sedition in India traces its roots back to the British rule in India. This law was introduced by the British Government in India in 1870. Sedition falls under Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code and the law 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 established by law, 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”.
The recent charges of sedition against individuals have drawn back focus to “Kedar Nath Singh v/s state of Bihar” (1962) case in which the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the sedition law and noted it is as being a reasonable restriction on free speech as provided in Article 19(2) of the constitution. The judgment in this case made clear that a citizen has a right to say or write anything as criticism or comments towards the Government, as long as he/she does not incite people to violence against the Government established by law or with an intention of creating public disorder. Even when the law provides such protection still this archaic, yet powerful law is often used to quell dissent.
In the present circumstances, in India every other day, we see twitter handle’s being suspended, activists being arrested, and protestors being sacked under the flagship of “sedition”. Supreme Court being the guardian of the fundamental rights has time and again intervened and issued guidelines and notices, against the violation of the fundamental rights, to the law enforcement agencies, yet we see no compliance of such orders and guidelines, instead we witness the guidelines being grossly ignored, like those issued in the Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi case, by the Bombay High Court. In the present circumstances, in the name of muzzling the miscreants, people at large are not allowed to voice out dissent by invoking the law of sedition arbitrarily, in almost every case of dissent, be it peaceful protests, activism, unbiased journalism or anything as meager as a tweet or a post on social media.
According to statistics published by National Crime Records Bureau, between 2016 and 2019, there has been an increase in the number of cases of sedition under section 124A by 160%, while the rate of conviction has dropped to 3.3% in 2019 from 33.3% in 2016.
Notably, many charged were individuals protesting government actions which the constitution bench in Kedar Nath Case had expressly held, falls outside the ambit of sedition. Consequently, these staggering numbers bring us to the conclusion that “the aim is not to punish or convict anyone but to incarcerate them. The process itself is a punishment”.
Considering the fact that it was the British Government which had introduced sedition as a law in the legislative books of our country, while the UK itself repealed the offence of sedition in 2010. India is holding on to a relic of the British Empire.
The Indian law commission 2018 had suggested the Parliament to relook this law, repeal the same and take it off from the legislative books of India. There are various other laws that are present to bring the culprits to book; there is a very less need of a law like that of sedition.
The Government, in the present circumstances, instead of repeatedly testing the allegiance of those who disagree with it, should test its abilities by reforming its mindset and outlook towards those who muster up the courage to voice their dissent and stand apart. If this is done the only “toolkit” we all really need is our constitution and the principles enshrined therein to protect the freedom of citizens, life and liberty. We must disseminate on all stages and platforms, our allegiances to due process of law, the need for speedy trials, and our commitment to doctrine of presumption of innocence. It’s not the alleged seditious acts that are creating fragments in our society, it is in fact the persecution of individuals and labeling them, that are really creating cracks in our socio-political ecosystem
Nafia Zahoor is an Advocate in JK High Court.
This article was originally published on Rising Kashmir. Views in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect CGS policy.