No democracy can flourish without dissent.
If a country has to grow in a holistic manner where not only economic rights but also civil rights of citizens are to be protected, dissent and disagreement have to be permitted, rather, encouraged.
But today, the Indian government is using the colonial sedition law to shut down its dissenters and critics. This speaks a lot about the incapability of the government to take criticism.
The recent report released by Article 14 shows that 96% of the sedition cases filed against 405 Indians for criticising governments and political leaders over the last decade were registered after the Narendra Modi government first came to power in 2014. Of these, the website said, 149 people were accused of making “critical” or “derogatory” remarks against PM Modi and 144 against UP CM Yogi Adityanath. Article 14 tracked the sedition cases filed between January 1, 2010, and December 31, 2020.
The cases were continuously filed even as the Supreme Court repeatedly held that criticism is not sedition.
The recent case of sedition to quote is against veteran journalist Vinod Dua. The case against Dua was registered in May last year, in Himachal Pradesh’s Shimla. The journalist was charged for making statements against the Narendra Modi government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly the nationwide lockdown that propelled thousands of migrant workers to walk back to their home states.
According to the complainant, a BJP leader, Dua’s statements could have incited communal dissonance and disrupted harmony. However, a bench led by Justice UU Lalit quashed the case and the 1962 Kedar Nath ruling was cited significantly in the judgment.
This six-decade-old judgment declared that Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) — the colonial-era law on sedition — was constitutionally valid. However, it significantly clarified that “dissent is not sedition”.
Sedition is a non-bailable offense and the punishment under the law varies from imprisonment up to three years to a life term and fine. A person charged under this law cannot apply for a government job. They have to live without a passport and must present themselves in court as and when required.
Usage of language or behaviour intended to persuade other people to oppose their government and change it, sometimes by using violence is termed as sedition.
Merely criticising the government doesn’t tantamount to sedition. Citizens are free to criticise their government because in a democracy, citizens hold the power in their hands. It is the citizens who bring a government to power, so they have all the right to criticise them. But through laws like sedition, the government has taken over this right from the citizens. The sedition law is being abused by the government.
The rampant use of the sedition law by the BJP regimes recalls the colonial era, which was put in the Indian Penal Code by the British authorities when they were ruling India. Ironically, the British have repealed their sedition act, then why hasn’t India? Is this a way to tackle critics, BJP style?
We have accessed a tweet from our Prime Minister’s office Twitter handle, where PM Narendra Modi’s words have been quoted, “I want this government to be criticised. Criticism makes democracy strong.” Apparently if you do so, a sedition case is slapped on you by the Indian Government for criticising them. Clearly, India is no more a democracy, it is now an elected autocracy.