By Manika Jain:
Section 124 of the Indian Penal Code deals with the sedition law and it 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.”
Existence of Section 124 of the Indian Penal Code even after India’s independence has questioned the ideals of democracy. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was a staunch opponent of this law and wanted to scratch it as soon as possible. Famous cases of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi and writer Arundhati Roy being charged under sedition have further raised voices for opposing sedition laws.
It is essential to note that sedition law is a colonial inheritance and the same section under which Gandhiji and Tilak were charged has been adopted without any change even in the language. But what has changed is the interpretation of this popularly called, ‘draconian law’. I agree that sedition law is strict and is one which can land one into jail for life term. However the ruling of courts in case of Kedar Nath Singh Vs the State of Bihar has ensured a very different sense of the word in spirit. The interpretation of sedition law today ensures that criticism to the government is welcome but violence is not.
It is true that the language of the law must be changed in order to match with the present day interpretation but acceptance on the necessity of sedition law is an important test case of balancing democracy and liberty with the necessary restrictions. From cases like that of Simranjit Singh Mann who raised the pro Khalistan slogan on 21st Anniversary of Operation Blue Star (6, June 2005) and was arrested under various sedition charges, we know it is impossible to eliminate sedition law from rule books. One has to remember that India is a very diverse country with numerous separatist groups manipulating historic, religious and cultural mechanisms for selfish political goals.
The separatist threads can be controlled only by criminalising actions which are done to incite violence against the government. The government in India is democratically elected and no self-proclaimed leaders can be allowed to tear the integrated fabric. For maintaining peace and stability, perverted actions have to be controlled else the basic foundations will shatter. Eminent jurist Mr. Soli Sorabjee has noted that it is not possible to discard the law of sedition in “today’s atmosphere of insurgency and terrorist violence.”
Even liberal democracies of United Kingdom, United States of America and Australia have sedition laws some of which are wider than Indian sedition law. An attempt was made by European nations to discards sedition laws, which were replaced with ‘legislation that punishes violent incitement against the state or government machinery’. Thus, the word ‘sedition’ might have been removed but replacing legislation remains same in spirit.
Hence sedition law might be viewed as draconian, undemocratic and ‘Taliban-ish’ but it is necessary to harbour it to protect the integrity and stability of nation. We might hate our government but criticizing it is always a better option than dismantling it and replacing it with monarchies or other perverted forms of governance. Sadly though, even in 21st century the sedition law is a reasonable restriction.