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Sedition Law - A Tool To Suppress The Voices

124 A. Sedition:

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 dissatisfaction towards, the Government established by law in India, shall be punished �.

The Pro's and Con's:
The sedition law which is being an ongoing debate, there are many different views. Whereas 'Any coin has two sides and it is important to take a look at both the sides of the coin, in order to come to a better understanding:

  1. Combating Maoist, Terrorist, Insurgency and Rebel groups:

    The Maoist groups run a parallel administration and they try to overthrow the Government by revolution. So, it is more difficult to abolish them. And Section 124 A of Indian Penal Code has its utility in combating and controlling these groups.
  2. Protection of National security and public order:

    In order to protect the Interest of the public, to maintain the public order and morals, this section is necessary. Article 19(3) of the International Covenant on civil and Political Rights, 1966 says that this freedom may be subject to restrictions for the protection of National security, public order, public health and Morals.

The above mentioned are the views in favor of the Sedition law but in order to come to a conclusion we must weigh the good and bad. Though sedition law helps in curbing the anti-social elements there are many views against the misuse of this law, they are as follows:

  1. Challenging the Right guaranteed under Indian Constitution:

    Section 124 A of Indian Penal Code being in contrast and curtails the Article 19(1)(a) which provides the right to freedom of speech and expression.
  2. Destroying the idea of Democracy:

    The right to speak, comment, criticize the Government are the major aspect in a democracy which has been put into question.
  3. This law was abolished by the creator of the law itself, in their own land:
    The British who enacted this law has abolished this law in their own land and there is no reason why India should not abolish it.

This Law of Sedition which was really created by the British in order to suppress the Indians, but as per Section 124A, it is understood that it is helpful in combating the terrorist and Anti -social activities. But the application of this law in the present scenario is in contrast to the above statement.

More than being helpful in combating the Anti-social elements, this law is used as a tool to suppress the voices of the common citizens of the land. Which makes it very clear that the problem is not with the Law but with the application of the Law. Using this 'Sedition law as a tool' should be stopped. Which can be done either by abolishing the law itself or by at least curtailing it.

If this Law is abolished, then how can the Anti-social elements be controlled? And whether Maoists are to be let free? These are the questions that would arise immediately. Indian Penal Code, 1860 and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 has provisions that penalize disrupting the public Peace and order or overthrowing the Government with violence and illegal means. Adding to it, The National Honour Act, 1971 which in turn has provisions for Insulting National flag or Constitution of India. These laws are more than sufficient to protect the integrity of the Nation, Controlling the Anti-social elements and the Public order.

This law is being misused as a tool to persecute political dissent. The misuse of this sedition law by slapping charges over the common citizens who Questions the Government or Criticize the Government should be stopped as questioning and criticizing are the fundamental Rights of the citizens in this country enshrined in the Indian Constitution under Article 19(1)(a).

Sedition charges cannot be slapped for Criticizing or Questioning the Government, Clarified by the Supreme Court of India:

The bench of Justice Deepak Misra and UU Lalit said that the apex Court had settled the controversy on sedition way back in 1962 kedar Nath v. State of Bihar and had already clarified on what circumstances the Penal provision could be used.

The court had clarified in its 1962 Verdict 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 violence against the government established by law or with the intention of creating public disorder.

In Romesh Thapar v. The State of Madras (1950) the Supreme Court of India upheld that the people are supreme and the State authorities are the servants of the people in Democracy.
Recently, The Manipur High Court has passed the Judgement on Kishorechandra Wangkhem who has been slapped with sedition charge. The High Court ordered the release of the Journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem, who was charged with sedition under the National Security Act for criticizing the Chief Minister.

And this misuse of the Law and arbitrary slapping of charges are inconsistent with India's International Commitment towards the ratification of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which provides for the protection of Speech and Expression.

Sedition law must be toned down, if not abolished:

One such edited excerpt of Supreme court Judge, Justice Deepak Gupta's speech on Law of Sedition in India and freedom of expression at the workshop of Lawyers, organized by Praleen public Charitable Trust and Lecture committee at Ahmedabad, on 7 September, 2019 said a strong note that Sedition law must be toned down, if not abolished. Which the Government can do is to make it a non-cognizable offence so that the persons are at least not arrested at the drop of the hat.

In a country which is governed by the Principles of NATURAL JUSTICE and Democracy, this misuse of sedition law will remain as a black mark. 'Criticism strengthens Democracy'. So, Government should welcome criticisms with open mind. A very important aspect of democracy is that the citizens should have no fear of the government.

They should not be scared of expressing the views which may not be liked by those in power. No doubt, the views must be expressed in a civilized manner without inciting any violence, but mere expression of such views cannot be a crime and should not be held against the citizens. The world would be a much better place to live if people could express their opinions fearlessly without being scared of prosecution or trolling on social media.

Written By: S.R.Femina, BL (Hons), Asst. Executive (Legal-IPR) - National Biodiversity Authority, India.

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