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Sedition law

Topics Covered:

Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure.

 

Sedition law

 

What to study?

For Prelims: What is Sedition? IPC 124?

For Mains: Concerns over this law and it’s misuse, need for scrapping of this law.

 

Context: Recently, a Bihar court directed the filing of an FIR against 49 eminent persons who signed an open letter to the Prime Minister expressing concerns over mob lynching.

  • However, many experts opined that this move is shocking, disappointing, and completely disregards the true meaning of the law. 

 

Need of the hour:

Many would agree that the writers of the letter were doing precisely what every citizen ought to do in a democracy — raise questions, debate, disagree, and challenge the powers that be on issues that face the nation. Therefore, the court decision warrants an urgent and fresh debate on the need to repeal the sedition law, for it has no place in a vibrant democracy.

 

Charges of sedition- recent concerns:

  1. There have been many incidents in recent times where “misguided” people have been termed “anti-national”.
  2. Law enforcement agencies forget the fact that the sentiment could have been demonstrated through a slogan, a cheer, a statement, protest against a nuclear power project, or an innocuous post on social media. In all these cases, the state, across regimes, has filed charges of sedition.
  3. Authorities often forget the fact that sedition can’t be applied to instances of criticism of the government or a political functionary. More importantly, words alone are not enough for such a charge to be slapped. Incitement to violence is the most crucial ingredient of the offence of sedition.
  4. Going through the numbers that the National Crime Records Bureau puts out every year, it is clear that despite the rise in sedition cases, convictions happen in barely a few. Even if these people are not convicted, the slapping of these charges is a way the governments over the years have been sending a strong message to its own people—obey or be ready to face consequences.

 

What is Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code?

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 shall be punished with imprisonment for life or any shorter term, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.

 

Why should it be scrapped?

Draconian laws such as the Section 124-A only serve to give a legal veneer to the regime’s persecution of voices and movements against oppression by casting them as anti-national.

 

Short term measures to be put up in place:

  1. All speech-related offences should be made bailable offences; this would lessen the harmful impact of using arrest and custody as a way of harassing anyone exercising their rights under Article 19(1)(a).
  2. The offences should be made non-cognisable so that there is at least a judicial check on the police acting on the basis of politically motivated complaints.
  3. In the case of hate speech, it is important to raise the burden of proof on those who claim that their sentiments are hurt rather than accept them at face value. And finally, it is crucial that courts begin to take action against those who bring malicious complaints against speech acts.

 

Observations made by the Supreme Court:

  1. In 1962, the Supreme Court decided on the constitutionality of Section 124A in Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar. It upheld the constitutionality of sedition, but limited its application to “acts involving intention or tendency to create disorder, or disturbance of law and order, or incitement to violence”. It distinguished these from “very strong speech” or the use of “vigorous words” strongly critical of the government.
  2. In 1995, the Supreme Court, in Balwant Singh v State of Punjab, acquitted persons from charges of sedition for shouting slogans such as “Khalistan Zindabaad” and “Raj Karega Khalsa” outside a cinema after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Instead of looking at the “tendency” of the words to cause public disorder, the Court held that mere sloganeering which evoked no public response did not amount to sedition, for which a more overt act was required; the accused did not intend to “incite people to create disorder” and no “law and order problem” actually occurred.

Sources: the Hindu.

Mains Question: Urgent and fresh debate on the need to repeal the sedition law, for it has no place in a vibrant democracy is the issue at the hour. Discuss.

CategoriesINSIGHTS