The Big Picture – Is it time to dump sedition law?
Sedition law has been in news for quite some time now. By definition, sedition is an act against state. However, there have been numerous demands to examine what actually constitutes sedition under Indian law. Sedition defined under Section 124A of the IPC is a colonial law meant to suppress the voice of Indian people. That is why the Indian law on sedition was different from the English law.
Sedition as defined in the IPC is, “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.”
Sedition law was enacted in 1870 in India to curb dissent. This provision was incorporated under Indian Penal Code when there was no democratic system in the country and no fundamental rights existed. According to experts, the very definition of this provision is undemocratic. Sedition was even considered by the constituent assembly as a ground to curb freedom of speech and expression. However, after a long debate it was dropped because of the past history which showed the misuse of this provision by the state.
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. Despite the strict construction adopted by the Supreme Court, the law enforcement agencies have always used it against artists, public men, intellectuals for criticising the governments. The sedition law is near-impossible to implement without slipping into arbitrary quashing of dissent.
In all too many cases, sedition law has been used to curb free expression and dissent. Rampant misuse of the law should prompt India to delete it from the books altogether, as modern democracies like the UK, US and New Zealand have done. More than six decades years after independence, police and criminal-law reform are overdue in the country. It is wise to start with the sedition law, which is so regularly and easily abused.