The laws such as sedition, criminal defamation, and hate speech have become political weapons in the hands of the rulers to suppress criticism. Over the past few years, there has been an increased number of instances where the government has misused these laws to curb any opinion that stands in their way of appeasing masses or otherwise.
As per the interpretation of the Court on Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, “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 shall be punishable with Life Imprisonment”.
On November 21, 2018, Manipur journalist Kishorchandra Wangkhem got arrested under the charge of sedition after he posted a video on facebook where he is seen criticizing the state government’s decision to observe Rani of Jhansi’s birth anniversary who has nothing to do with Manipur’s history. The journalist in his fiery video criticized the current BJP-led state government as well as the Centre by using foul words and termed the state government to be the ‘puppet’ of the central government. He called out Manipur CM N. Biren Singh, RSS and BJP to arrest him if they can for doing so.
He was produced before the magistrate on the November 25 and was later released on bail. The order clarified “ it is a mere expression of opinion against the Prime Minister and Chief Minister of Manipur which cannot be equated with an attack to invite people to violence against the government of India or Manipur to topple it.” He was bailed only to be detained for a year under National Security Act (NSA).
While his choice of words to make his point is not to be appreciated, charging him with NSA even after the magistrate’s order to grant bail is to be condemned. The video released by Wangkhem wasn’t concerned with journalism, it was rather a citizen’s perspective. His rage was not just limited to the state observing Jhansi Rani’s birth anniversary, but also on Chief Minister’s repeated attempts to distort Manipur’s history. The citizen in an article reports “This is not the first time that CM Biren Singh has been accused of taking his cues on history from the school of history of the ruling BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).”
While ministers and politicians are set free and at most trolled for making derogatory and communal remarks and using abusive language on national television and public speeches, commoners who criticize the government are arrested. The partiality in exercising such laws proves their tendency to get misused.
An advocate in Supreme court Gautam Bhatia writes “ under preventive detention laws, any challenge to a detention order does not, in the first instance, goes before a court, but before an “advisory board”. As the record shows, however, advisory boards are reluctant to act against the State and set aside orders of detention, primarily on the ground that it is the Executive that is best positioned to assess threats to public order.”
The use of such archaic and colonial laws to deal with criticism exposes the government’s undemocratic use of power. While the rightful use of sedition laws can prevent a lot of hate speech-based violence like riots, the power politics has changed the purpose of such laws. Wangkhem’s remarks cannot be declared as seditious or as a national threat, something the magistrate has already clarified. But, his intentional provocation needs to be taken into concern. Section 294 and 504 of the IPC state that abusing anyone publicly is a crime. But we can not ignore the arbitrary use of sedition and NSA against citizens by the government. It’s a threat to everyone’s rights. The vague description of ‘sedition’ and ‘national threat’ coupled with the power of the authority has undeniably become a political weapon and its judicial review is much needed.