Sedition Law in India
History: The great colonial legacy? Before delving into this question let us just check section 124A of the Indian Penal code which describes the sedition. It says:
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.
So what was the aim to create the sedition law? The law was created during the colonial era when India was in the grip of the British government. Indian Penal code (IPC) was created in 1860, sedition law has not got any mention in the original IPC. It was first introduced by James Stephen in 1870 and was amended in 1898. After the war of 1857, the British government took over and the privileges of the East India Company were ended. Slowly in the coming decades, many Indians started getting an education. This era is also known as the renaissance period and many educated Indians realized the ill effect of the British government on the Economy and society.
The establishment of congress in 1885 led to a political movement to free India from the clutches of British rules. The advent of Mahatma Gandhi invigorated the Independence movement. Although Britishers followed codified law many of those laws were wrong. As Gandhi rightly put "an unjust law is species of violence", hence he has broken those unjust laws. People followed him in large numbers, to counter the agitation (violent or non-violent) against the British government Britishers used sedition law. Any criticism against the British government attracted the use of sedition.
The Famous Sedition law used by the British government against Indian
The First Case: The first notable case on sedition was reported in 1891. The case was against Jogendra Chandra Bose. He was the editor of the Bengali newspaper which published criticism against the British government. The editor contended that they are just a publisher and have not written hence he should not be penalized, he also challenged the existence of the sedition law. the Calcutta high court however said the publisher can not be absolved just because they had published it.
The Landmark Case: The most published case Queen Empress v. Gangadhar Tilak & Keshavmahdev Bal. Gangadhar Tilak was an Indian freedom fighter who fought against the tyranny of the British government. He was tried for sedition for the publication in his newspaper 'Kaseri'. He was charged that publication which advocated celebration of 'Ganesh festival' is anti-muslim. He refuted stating the festival gives the masses sense of belonging. He was sentenced to imprisonment for twelve months. The ordeal of Mr. Tilak has not come to end here as again he was tried for sedition in 1908 for writing in favor of Bengal revolutionary. He was sentenced to six-year of transportation and banished to Burma.
Gandhi and Sedition: Gandhi came to India in January 1915. After touring one year he released the pathetic condition of Indians and was convinced if India had to come out of misery the self-government in the only option. He started his non-violent movement from Champaran. His non-violent method appealed to all the sections of society large numbers of people have joined the movement. This alarmed the British government. They wanted to keep Gandhi in Jail as his movement was the non-violent only tool they had to check Gandhi was sedition. First-time Sedition law was used against Gandhi in 1922 for taking part in the protest against the colonial government. In 1929 Gandhi wrote the stinging article in Young Indiademanding repeal of section 124 A. Gandhi said this law constituted 'a rape of word' law.
Many other prominent freedom fighters were also arrested by the British government to silence those who were speaking against the British Government. The British government was considered a fascist and autocratic government hence they have used section 124A to consolidate their position in India. India got independence on 15th August 1947, we have got our constitution on 26th January 1950. The constitution is considered as the source of all the laws in India, and any law which contravenes to the constitution is struck down. But why was Sedition law which was unjust as Gandhi also pointed out was never struck down? This question we will try to answer in the next session.
Sedition law after Independence
The argument in the constituent assembly
The question is when sedition is used by Britishers to silence freedom fighters why it was not removed why it is still in the Indian penal code. Sedition is not part of the Indian constitution. It is the part of IPC, but according to article 13 of the Indian constitution which reserve and preserve the fundamental rights of the citizen, protecting from the law which otherwise infringes upon our freedom. So sedition i.e. section 124A which seems to infringe upon the fundamental rights of the citizen is still not removed from IPC, what could be the basic reason behind it?
K.M.Munshi on 1st December 1948 said on the constituent assembly that there should be no room for 'sedition' in independent India. Many leaders talk against the sedition law and hence the draconian law was not included in the constitution, but still, it got a place in IPC. Even sedition was not included in the constitution and apparently 124 A of the IPC infringes on fundamental rights, which is violating article 13 of the constitution. Let us discuss the argument for and against section 124 A of the IPC.
Cases for section 124A of the IPC during 1950s: BrijMohan v. Delhi in this case government tried to censor the RSS mouthpiece, the organizer. The second famous case during that era was censoring left-leaning journals called crossroad.
Recent sedition cases against Kanahiya Kumar, Hardik Patel, Aseem Trivedi, Binayak Sen, Arundhati Roy, Pravin Togadia, etc are testaments of how the sedition can be misused by one or another political party.
Arguments against Sedition law: Sedition law is actually against fundamental rights and is usually used to silence the critic of the government. In a democracy, the opposition is important as it checks the arbitrary action of the government, hence using sedition to silence the critics is anti-democratic. Though the supreme court in the case "Kedar nath Singh" has propounded mere criticism is not tantamount to sedition, but usually, police do not follow the instructions which are dangerous in a democratic country.
Let us check the conviction under the sedition law, recent data from 2016 to 2019 gives a different story, an arrest under sedition cases has increased in last year but the conviction rate is only three percentage, which means either police officers are not doing their work properly or the frivolous sedition cases are used to silence the critics of the government, later is a more plausible explanation.
Arguments for Sedition Law:
The following argument is put forward for the of support sedition law
1. Its been seventy-five years since India became a democratic country. India is still struggling with arm secessionist movements in Kashmir, northeast, and Maoists are a threat to India's security.
2. To protect the elected government from attempts to overthrow the government of the day. It acts as a deterrent.
Is sedition law is necessary?
The answer could be complex, certainly, sedition law could act as a deterrent against anti-India force, but at the same time, all criticism is not sedition. Democracy will not thrive if the criticism is crushed using frivolous means. Politics should not be mixed with law. Law enforcement agency should do their work diligently and professionally. They should be taught not to misuse section 124A. There should be a parent-child relationship between the government and the citizen, every criticism is not sedition. Sedition law should be used only when someone is trying to use violence to throw the elected government.
India is a diverse country. It is the amalgamation of different cultures, religions, languages etc. Free speech is the bedrock of the Indian democracy it can not be crushed. At the same time there is denying fact that anti-national are working to destabilize the county, hence this law might be needed but tread carefully otherwise order could change into anarchy which will be detrimental to a great county like India.