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SEDITION LAW – IS THIS HIGH TIME TO ABOLISH THIS LAW ALTOGETHER?

INTRODUCTION

In 1921, Maulana Shaukat Ali, Maulana Mohammad Ali, and Shri Shankaracharya were tried under the sedition law during the peak of the khilafat movement. More than a hundred years later, on May 11, 2022, the supreme court of India decided to put this law on hold and ordered the suspension of pending criminal cases and criminal proceedings under (sedition law) article 124-A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) till the center completes its task of re-examining its provisions, putting a hold on a century-year-old law which was enacted under the British Raj. Given the seriousness shown by the current Chief Justice of India, one can expect a decision on the topic of the abolishment of sedition before he completes his tenure in late August 2022.

ARGUMENT FOR ABOLISHMENT OF THIS DRACONIAN LAW

To understand this topic, it’s important to look at the stance of both the parties who are for the argument of removing sedition and the other side, which is for keeping the law as it is. The main argument that is raised against this draconian law is that it can be traced back to colonial rule when this law was used against the people who stood up against the injustice of the British Raj. At a time when our nation is marking 75 years of independence, it is important to shed the baggage of colonial laws. Freedom of speech plays an important role in creating a healthy democracy. Positive criticism of the government is an essential ingredient of a healthy debate in a healthy democracy, and counting that under sedition law damages the basic structure that is necessary for the existence of a democracy.

One major argument that comes to the table when talking about the abolishment of this law is the frequency with which it is used in the country. During the years 2014 to 2019, 326 cases were filed under sedition and only 6 were convicted, which discloses [1]another argument that is the misuse of this law against journalists, authors, and the general public of the country. The current attorney general also stated his concerns about the glaring misuse of this provision.

Lately, many countries across the world have come forward to abolish the law of sedition in their countries. Some of the examples being that the United Kingdom, which was the first in all to come up with this law, abolished the law of sedition in the year 2009. In 2010, in the United States of America, in Indonesia in 2007, and in Ghana in 2001, Claire Ward, who was a former minister of justice in the UK in 2009, quoted “Sedition and seditious and defamatory libel are arcane offences – from a bygone era when freedom of expression wasn’t seen as the right it is today… The existence of these obsolete offences in this country had been used by other countries as justification for the retention of similar laws which have been actively used to suppress political dissent and restrict press freedom… Abolishing these offences will allow the UK to take a lead in challenging similar laws in other countries, where they are used to suppress free speech.”[2]

One of the major arguments that are raised when talking in favour of keeping the sedition law is that, to this day, many states and areas face Maoist insurgency, and the prevalence of different rebel groups can be seen in different areas that are running a parallel government. The basic agenda of these groups is to overthrow the current government and, keeping this situation in mind, it will be a poor choice to abolish the draconian law of sedition in the country. Another disagreement raised is that the sedition law assists in maintaining the stability of the government and any attempt made to overthrow the government in power with illegal methods can be prosecuted under sedition law.

JUDICIAL OPINION OVER THE SEDITION LAW

In a landmark judgement of Kedarnath v. State of Bihar, 1962[3] in the Supreme Court. Section 124A of the Indian Penal code was alleged to be violating the freedom of speech and expression provided under article 19(1) (a) of the Indian constitution. It was ruled in this judgement that “A citizen has a right to say or write whatever he likes about the government, or its measures, by way of criticism or comment, so long as he does not incite people to be violent against the government established by the law or with the intention of creating a public disorder. A person could be prosecuted for sedition only if his actions cause incitement to violence, or an intention or tendency to create public disorder or cause disturbance of public peace. ” In the JNU fiasco of 2016 in Kanhaiya Kumar v. State of NCT of Delhi[4], the apex court upheld the Kedarnath judgement of 1962 and reiterated the necessary safeguards.

The law commission of India had a different outlook on sedition law throughout the years. In its 39th report of 1968[5], the Law Commission rejected the idea of revoking Section 124A of the IPC, siding with the idea that the section of sedition could stay as it is. In the 42nd report of 1971[6], the panel wanted to widen the scope of the section to cover the constitution and the two branches of government, which were the judiciary and the legislative. In the year 2018, the law commission of India released a consultation paper stating their ideas for re-thinking or removing Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code as a whole.[7] 

CONCLUSION

Free speech and expression are an indispensable part of a healthy democracy. In hindsight, we can see how the law of sedition is being misused on many occasions in our country. There are many other sections and articles present in the Indian Penal Code and the Constitution that can deal with attempts at hate speech and disaffection against the government. The law of sedition is doing more damage to the tranquilly of the government than good for it. On this joyous occasion of 75 years of independence, I think it’s high time for the country of India to join the group of countries like the UK and USA and repeal this colonial law once and for all.

Author(s) Name: Arpit Agrawal (Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies)

References:

[1] ‘Why you aren’t repealing British era sedition law used against Gandhi, SC asks Centre’(Press Trust of India , 15 July, 2021)  <http://www.ptinews.com/news/12576329_Why-you-aren-t-repealing-British-era-sedition-law-used-against-Gandhi–SC-asks-Centre.html> accessed on 6 July 2022.

[2]  Clare Feikert-Ahalt, ‘Sedition in England: The Abolition of a Law From a Bygone Era’ (The law of congress, 2nd Oct, 2012) https://blogs.loc.gov/law/2012/10/sedition-in-england-the-abolition-of-a-law-from-a-bygone-era/ accessed on 6 July 2022.

[3] Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar, AIR 1962 SCC 955, 1962 SCR Supl. (2) 769

[4] Kanhaiya Kumar v. State of NCT of Delhi , MANU/DE/0498/2016

[5] Law commission of India, Report on the punishment of imprisonment on life under the Indian penal Code  (Law Com. No. 39 1968) < https://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/1-50/Report39.pdf> accessed on 6 July 2022.

[6] Law commission of India, Indian Penal Code (Law Com. No. 42 1971) <https://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/1-50/Report42.pdf> accessed on 6 July 2022.

[7] Law commission of India, Consultation paper of Sedition , (Law Com. 2018) <https://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/CP-on-Sedition.pdf> accessed on 6 July 2022.