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It is Time to Strike Off Sedition – Section 124A and Usher Back Freedom of Expression and to Dissent

Recently, Amulya Leona got bail from a Magistrate court after session court had denied her bail however, later, Magistrate court accepted the bail on the basis that Police didn’t file chargesheet within due time and during this she spent around four months in jail.
Saroofa Jargar, a youth activist in Delhi has been picked up from her home for her involvement in Ant-CAA protest on the charges that her involvement allegedly caused riots in Delhi. Saroofa is pregnant, a research scholar in Jamia Millia Islamia (which is in Top10 universities as per NIRF of MHRD). Now she got bail on humanitarian grounds.
Devangana and Natasha are founding members of a group Pinjra Tod and they were active in Ant—CAA protest in Jaffrabad area of North East Delhi and have been picked up by police on the charges that their involvement allegedly caused riots in North East Delhi. Devangana and Natasha are JNU students (2nd Rank University in NIRF universities ranking)
Delhi Minority Commission Chairman Zafrul Islam Khan is facing inquiry under sedition charges allegedly for his social media post and several visits of Delhi Police have happened at his residence in the name of inquiry.
Anup Singh, an individual from Prayagraj (U.P.) booked because he had posted a comment on a facebook post on migrant workers issue and had made an objectionable remark on CM Yogi Adityanath.
Many more known and unknown names across India can be added in above list with one thing common that they all are those who faced sedition charges in recent time. These known-unknown names include Students of JNU like Umar Khalid, many other Jamia and AMU students, journalists like Vinod Dua, Dhaval Patel, activists like Khalid Saifi to less known Kashmiri students, local journalists, individuals who wrote something against CM, PM, Government. You just name someone, share reports, criticize heavily, organize protests and the next week you may face undesirable guests in the form of police to detain you under charges of sedition filed against you by any less known person or a political worker in any xyz district. Mostly, sedition is not alone, and added with other charges such as UAPA, defamation law or other IPC sections etc.
Most of them have been in detention by police without any clear involvement of them in any riots or any evidence to prove that their actions are against the sovereignty of India. They have been pushed behind the ‘anti-national’ tag merely for their open criticism against the policy of the government with peaceful protests in writing or through practicing their right to have assembly and freedom of speech. Most of them are students, young researchers but they have been made accused with the help of amended laws of UAPA (in many cases) and also under sedition. The same colonial era sedition which already has caused difficulty in earlier years too such as in cases of Binayak Sen and in Kundankulam Protest, but in present, used excessively to suppress even basic criticism or even in the matter which could be ignored.
Section 124 (A) of IPC was made initially in the year 1870 (IPC-1860) by British against the Indians to suppress their voices of dissent and imposed against freedom of speech and expression, probably to ‘protect’ the British crown from any criticism by creating fear among freedom fighters, dissenters who were active through protests and through their newspapers. Bal Gangadhar Tilak faced sedition for his activities during the freedom struggle and later Mahatma Gandhi also faced the charge for writing an article in his newspaper Young India.
Section 124A in its present form states: “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 a fine may be added; or, with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which a fine may be added; or, with fine.”
After Independence, IPC continued and sedition also remained a part of it and applied by the Indian government also against its own citizens when they tried to speak against the government. With the basis of accusing someone’s action seditious through using words like ‘disaffection’, this extremely serious allegation looks very vague and with all potential to be misused due to lack of clarity of ‘Disaffection’, which is free to be interpreted by anyone.
Probably looking at this and the trail that this law has been misused to tag people, particularly dissenters, activists etc. even a paper of the Law commission advocated to repeal or at least review section 124(a). In its report, Law commission states ‘Section 124A should be invoked only in cases where the intention behind any act is to disrupt public order or to overthrow the government with violence and illegal means.’ It also stated ‘Berating the country or a particular aspect of it cannot and shouldn’t be treated as sedition.’
Also, despite the fact that IPC already has many other provisions and there are many other separate acts in India which are more than sufficient to deal with any actual sedition charges but still applicability of sedition has not been reduced.
Considering the scope and applicability in terms of conviction, even the Supreme Court of India, in its judgements clearly said that statements against government cannot be termed as sedition. In the famous judgement of Kedarnath Singh Vs State of Bihar in 1962, court observed that any criticism and comment against the government cannot be termed as sedition unless it incite people for violence or with intention of creating public disorder. Similarly in Balwant Singh Vs State of Punjab case 1995, Supreme Court observed that casual raising of slogans once or twice (in this case Khalistan Zindabad) cannot be said as an attempt to excite hatred.
With the recent data of NCRB, it is clear that conviction rate is extremely low (only 1 case in 2016, 1 in 2017 and 2 in 2018) as these cases couldn’t stand on legal ground inside courtrooms where constitution provides fundamental rights of speech and expression, but still the machinery is picking people frequently, probably because sedition also provides an easy ground to detain because of no clear definition or criteria and till the time a particular case will be judged in court, the dissenter may feel the fear and pain of being lodged in detention.
In recent times, these people, mostly university going boys and girls, research scholars who have been pursuing their thirst of understanding society, putting their opinions on front and without fear are in grip. In fact, a healthy democracy should welcome such people as any critical analysis, critical comments, protests, resistance and dissents are actually a true reflection that democracy is living in paper and spirit. A government in power at center or state, must not see itself as flawless or free from any public advice or public demand for change or criticism. A democratic government should be in fact more welcoming towards the change, as democratic values are like a river that flows continuously and stopping it would result in death.
Government must start striking off the sedition law first and any such actions, even if found to be punished, should be dealt with through other available provisions and this draconian provision, which is a sign of British colonial mindset to crush dissent, should be repealed to respect people’s freedom in Independent India.
Even if this can be done now, after 73 years of Independence, this would be a step in s larger contribution of making a democratic values stronger.

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