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Behind Bars For Speaking The Truth: Sedition Laws In India

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By R Anupam Pillai:

Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Anna Hazare, Dr. Binayak Sen and Arundhati Roy: these famous personalities share a common link, the fact they were brave enough to rebel in order to bring about a social change and were slapped with the charge of sedition by the government. Now the question that arises is why do we even call ourselves a democratic society when raising ones voice against something that is wrong is not accepted? For this, we need to understand the concept of sedition.

Firstly, let us understand what does the word ‘sedition’ means? It simply refers to the words or expressions that stir the emotions of people against the government for a given purpose or reason. Moreover, Chapter VI of the Indian Penal Code deals with the offences against the state. Under Section 124, of the Indian Penal Code, Sedition has been defined as “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 in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.

Secondly, for a very long time, there has been great hue and cry for repealing the given law, but all the efforts by social activists to do the same seems to be in vain. But the proposition is misconstrued at the very grass root levels by the media, as there still prevails ignorance regarding legal and political repercussions that may arise once the law pertaining to sedition is repealed. It is not that the law of sedition is prohibiting or restraining oneself from the freedom of speech, but it is its misuse that creates noise in the society. Whenever a social activist fights for his rights or welfare of the society, the media creates a hullabaloo in a manner that paints a different picture altogether. The simple yet important reason to be considered on this debatable issue is that of the very necessity of having law against sedition.

The law of sedition has been formulated as a constitutional weapon to safeguard the state by preventing a person from creating a sense of ‘disaffection’. It is a machinery to control the advent of agitation against the state. It also imbibes the very idea of ‘Freedom of speech’ guaranteed under Article 19 in the Constitution of India. But, the scenario has changed now, as this law has been blandly interpreted by the media as well as the government. The law of sedition extends to those situations only, where there is a tendency to cause public disorder by use of violence. But then again, the journalists, activists and writers fall prey to this loophole in the judicial enactment of the same. Thus, the very fundamental right of ‘Freedom of Speech and Expression‘ is misconstrued as it does not restrain a citizen from criticizing a political statement given that the statement shall not incite or hurt the emotions of people against the state. This does not include the appeal or protests done by the activists which happens to be bona fide and is of purpose. Activists like Dr. Binayak Sen, had been put under trial under the charges of sedition and this is an example where there is a misuse of this draconian law by political leaders in power to suppress the representation of the society for a given cause. And whenever the law fails its purpose, it must be repealed or removed.

The legislation needs to either amend the Article 124 of the IPC or repeal the same as it lacks the very idea of protecting the honour of the state. But it cannot be shunned as done by the Malaysian government as there needs to be a medium for protection of the sovereignty of the state. For instance, the Anna Hazare ‘Anti Corruption Movement’ cannot be termed as seditious but the fictitious works by authors like Salman Rushdie which have stirred the feelings and emotions of a religious group are highly seditious. This is the true meaning of the scope and approach to be followed for interpreting the sedition law in India. So, the law which has been developed in the colonial period shall not be applied in the present day situation. There is a grave need for the law of sedition, to be retrospectively viewed with the previous instances of abuse of the given law. Hence there exists a need for recognizing the mistakes in the past, understanding the present situation and re-thinking about the future consequences of the given law in India.

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  1. Aastha Dua

    Hey! I absolutely agree with you on this. I think the section, as it presently stands, needs to be completely overhauled and redrafted, keeping in mind the real intention of the legislature. In any case, the entire IPC is over 150 years old and needs to be completely re-written, in my opinion. This section is antithetical to Article 19 of the Constitution which guarantees to us the right to freedom to speech, though reasonable restrictions to the same are security of the state, public order, incitement to an offence etc. Therefore, the law needs to be clearly defined so as to exclude those who merely raise a voice to make the common people aware of the malaise that is the present government.

  2. Aastha Dua

    Incidentally, only today cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was held on sedition charges. Read the news at
    http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/cartoonist-aseem-trivedi-held-on-sedition-charge-for-mocking-the-constitution-264963.

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