Sedition
Government Indian Polity

Sedition (Required?)

Sedition Law is in news for quite some time now, framing plethora of questions in the minds of young people. Is it against Democracy? Is it against freedom of speech? Let’s find out in this edition of CRITICAL THINKERS.

What is Sedition?

In simple words, Sedition is an act against state/government.

Section 124 of IPC defines sedition 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.”

History of Sedition:

Sedition was not a part of the original Indian Penal Code (IPC) enacted in 1860 and was introduced in 1870 as fears of a possible uprising plagued the colonial authorities. Despite demands of scrapping the same, the law of sedition remains enshrined in our statute book till today.

Argument against Sedition:

  • It hampers the fundamental right of freedom of speech in many ways.
  • It negates the right to dissent, which is an essential part of any reasonable and just government.
  • In principle it is meant to crush oppositions, which indirectly is against democracy.
  • It opposes the idea of legitimate, liberal democratic state. Violating the values of our constitution in many ways.

Arguments for Sedition:

  • It would act as deterrence for anti-social elements.
  • To make sure that there is no attempt by any individual or sections, to excite hatred or contempt or disaffection.
  • To maintain public order.

Concerns:

As per the Figures of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), in the two years preceding the JNU case, there were a total of 77 sedition cases. Moreover, it is not just limited to individuals, an entire village in Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu had sedition cases slapped against it for resisting a nuclear power project.

Where Article 19(1) of the constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression to all the citizens, Article 19(2) specifies reasonable restrictions on the same in the name of public order. However in recent pasts it has been used by the governments to suppress the constructive criticism by the public. Moreover, the Supreme Court has made it clear that sedition provision cannot be invoked unless there is actual incitement to violence and intention to cause disorder, and that merely using words that indicate disaffection against the government cannot be termed sedition.

Conclusion

In its consultative paper on sedition, the Law Commission of India said dissent and criticism of the government are essential ingredients of a robust public debate in a vibrant democracy. Additionally, democracy is directly proportional to the debates, discussions and freedom of speech. Where it can be used against individuals, Supreme Court being the protector of Fundamental Rights needs to pitch in to relax the norms like providing for the provision of bail, narrowing the definition of sedition or scrapping it all together if needs to be.

“Britishers may have used it against Bal Gangadhar Tilak, but the new India doesn’t want to use it against our young critical thinkers.”

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