Recently, the Apex Court decision quashed the sedition charges against a senior journalist.
Civil society applauded this as a heartening development, especially in the respect of the increasing number of sedition cases filed.
Increasing number of sedition cases reflects the repressive approach to dissension and criticism of the government.
Moreover, a report published by Freedom House Freedom in the report Democracy under Siege demoted India’s status from a free country to a partly free country.
One of the reasons for the drop is the rise in sedition cases for adjacent dissenters.
Therefore, as the sedition law is often used to stifle democracy, it should be unfastened from the statutes.
Historical Background of Sedition Law:
Sedition laws were constituted in 17th century England when lawmakers believed that only good opinions of the government should survive, as bad opinions were inimical to the government and monarchy.
This sentiment (and law) was borrowed and installed into the Section 124A of IPC in 1870, by the British.
British used Sedition law to jailbird and sentence freedom fighters. It was first applied to prosecute Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1897.
Mahatma Gandhi, too, was later secured for sedition for his articles in Young India.
Relevance of Sedition Law:
Reasonable Restrictions: The constitution of India prescribes reasonable restrictions (under Article 19(2)) that can always be imposed on this right in order to assure its responsible exercise and to ensure that it is coequally available to all citizens.
Maintaining Unity & Integrity: Sedition law benefits the government in combating anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements.
Maintaining Stability of State: It helps in preserving the elected government from pursuit to overthrow the government with violence and illegal means. The continued occurrence of the government established by law is an essential condition of the stability of the State.
Rational restrictions are mentioned under Article 19(2) Constitution of India i.e. notice of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decorum or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.
Associated Issues With Sedition Law:
Relic of Colonial Era: Colonial administrators used sedition to keep out people who criticised the British policies. Stalwarts of the freedom movement such as Lokmanya Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhagat Singh, etc were condemned for their “seditious” speeches, writings and activities under British rule. Thus, uncontrolled use of the sedition law recalls the colonial era.
Stand of Constituent Assembly: The Constituent Assembly did not acknowledge to include sedition in the Constitution. The members convinced it would curtail freedom of speech and expression. They contend that the sedition law can be turned into a weapon to suppress people’s legitimate and constitutionally approved right to protest.
Disregarding Supreme Court’s Judgement: Supreme Court in Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar case 1962, limited application of sedition to “acts involving motive or tendency to create disorder, or disturbance of state law and order, or incitement to violence”. Thus, conjuring sedition charges against academicians, lawyers, socio-political activists and students is in disregard of the Supreme Court’s order.
Repressing Democratic Values: Increasingly, India is being narrated as an elected autocracy mostly because of the callous and calculated use of sedition law.
Scrapping Sedition Law: There are sufficient laws in our country to deal with external and internal threats to India and there is no need to endure the sedition law. Thus, it is essential to nullify the sedition law on the ground that it is used to infringe freedom of expression and speech.
Role of Judiciary: Until the sedition law is grazed by the parliament, the higher judiciary should use its supervisory powers to stimulate the magistracy and police to the constitutional provisions protecting free speech. Further, to avoid the burden of sedition law, the higher judiciary can stimulate the definition of sedition, to include only the issues prevailing to the territorial integrity of India as well as the sovereignty of the country.
Raising Civil Society Awareness: Civil society must get hold of the command to raise awareness about the arbitrary use of Sedition law.
Now that the Supreme Court has quashed sedition charges put on a journalist, we as the citizens of the Indian Nation should demand the quashing of the sedition law in its absoluteness to fulfil the vision of the Constituent Assembly, which denied sedition while framing the Constitution.