Author:- Daksh Jain, Research Assistant, All India Legal Forum
The laws pertaining to sedition in India were established by the colonial regime in its attempt to nullify and prevent the freedom movement and liberation by curbing their rights to the freedom of free speech and expression. The Sedition law mandated under the auspices of Section 124-A Indian Penal Code over one hundred and fifty years ago continues to exist and is often times misused and over-imposed on individuals violating several constitutionally guaranteed and protected fundamental rights. This paper explores and identifies the execution, Implementation, and implications of laws governing sedition in parlance to the contemporary Indian democratic society.
Fundamental Rights, Free Speech Expression, Sedition, Section 124-A, Indian Penal Code,1860.
The term Sedition is defined by the oxford dictionary as “Conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch”. Sedition is further legally defined under section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code 1860 as “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”.
COLONIAL LEGAL REGIME- A CONTINUED EXISTENCE?
140 years after its commencement, regressive colonial legislation like the sedition statute are still in effect, and Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code has not undergone any regulatory hurdles. Irrespective of its heritage from the brutal colonial past, India now does appear to have some benefits. The sedition laws are covered by the provisions of part iv of the Indian Penal Code, which covers sections 121 to 130 and primarily covers offences like declaring war on the Indian state or government. It is crucial to note that wrongdoings falling under the purview of this section are very grave and serious. In order to defend the state against militants and those people or organisations that pose a threat to the national security and interests of the nation, laws under chapter vi, namely section 124-A of the IPC, are essential. The sedition laws must remain in place, so repealing the entire section would not be a reasonable solution. These laws are the cornerstone for dealing with those who rebel against the state, and they are increasingly necessary in light of the threat posed by Maoist militants and other antinational actors who regularly jeopardize public order and national security by waging armed rebellion against the government and its missionaries. As a result, the IPC’s Section 124-A is utilized to deal with these people, and it makes sense to file charges against them under the scope of this section or chapter vi as a whole.
MISAPPLICATION OF THE SEDITION ACT
The Sedition Act has been subjected to different interpretations and repercussions since independence, including passing the constitutionality test in the Kedar Nath case. Yet, just as the British did, current governments continue to utilize it to limit citizens’ rights and suppress criticism. Furthermore, in cases involving sedition, there has been little consistency, and the outcome varies from case to case. In today’s environment, someone could be charged with sedition based on flimsy evidence. The case of Sanskar Marathe v. The State of Maharashtra & Anr. which received worldwide condemnation, reveals how the police apply the law arbitrarily.
In 2014, 47 sedition charges were filed in nine states, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. In many of these instances, however, there was no incitement to violence. The court found only one of the 58 people arrested in connection with these acts guilty. According to NCRB records, 90 sedition cases were filed in 2018, but just two were found guilty. This reveals how the police force abuses its authority by failing to properly apply the law and attempting to curtail citizens’ rights in the name of national security and integrity. According to the information presented above, the courts do not find all cases of sedition guilty. On the other side, a person charged with sedition faces numerous challenges in trying to live a normal life. They have trouble travelling internationally, are socially isolated and stigmatised, are barred from holding government posts, and must appear in court regularly and pay legal fees. This shows that, while people may avoid legal consequences, the effort required to prove their innocence is a punishment in and of itself.
People are afraid to express their differences in public, which is the country’s main worry with sedition legislation. There appears to be a lack of governmental critique when dissent should be a natural element of a democratic society. The courts have attempted to strike a balance by seeking to draw a border between free expression and the crime of sedition on several occasions. On the other hand, the law is being exploited for political ends and to serve the ruling class’s objectives.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND SEDITION
The basic right to freedom of speech protected by article 19(1) has come under fire for egregious abuse and repeated violations under section 124-A. (a). Due to the questionable elements of this Victorian law, sedition laws have received a lot of attention from the media, the general public, and legal professionals over the past ten years. As a result, many nations have taken steps to protect their citizens’ personal freedom, freedom of thought, and ability to express “dissent” in a functioning democracy. The fundamental right enables suppressed and unheard people a platform to speak out against any treasured culture, as well as allowing a society’s mainstream viewpoint to be highlighted.
Democracy is not the same as majoritarianism; it is a system in which every voice is heard and every person’s opinion is valued, regardless of the number of people who agree with the concept. Diverse and conflicting interpretations of a given narrative of an event are unavoidable in a democracy. Not only should the majority’s thoughts be taken into consideration, but so should dissenting and critical viewpoints. Free expression is protected because it is necessary to achieve a larger, often ultimate, social aim Denial suffocates people’s lives and buries the race’s hopes. Abuse kills in a day, but denial suffocates people’s lives and buries the race’s hopes.
Section 66A of the Information and Technology Act, 2000, was held unconstitutional in the case of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India80, on the basis that it was in direct conflict with the basic right to freedom of speech and expression. Freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental principle of the Constitutional system, according to the Supreme Court, and is necessary for democracy to survive. After discussing the significance of free speech and expression, it’s difficult to argue that the right to free speech and expression is insufficient in and of itself.
In Union of India & Ors. v. Motion Picture Association & Ors, etc., etc., the Supreme Court stated, “Free expression is the cornerstone of a democratic society.” The free interchange of ideas, the unrestricted circulation of information, the dissemination of knowledge, the hearing of different points of view, the debating and shaping of one’s own thoughts, and the expression of those beliefs are all key indicators of a free society.
It has been now 153 years that we are still living with colonial laws enacted by the Britishers to suppress the voice of the Indians who spoke against them. It is clear that sedition law was only introduced to curb these voices. However, the irony is that the governments over the years instead of repealing the controversial colonial law are misusing it over time. It cannot be blamed on a single government as in history or even present times irrespective of the political ideology and inclination state as well as central government slap sedition charges on those who try to go against them and their policies. It is very unfortunate that we are not only carrying what the Britishers gave to us but also using it to the full extent.
As a result, it has become imperative to further restrict how section 124-A is applied and interpreted in order to stop the state from arbitrarily and carelessly using it against its citizens, which would ultimately make it difficult for people to exercise their fundamental rights to free speech and the freedom to criticize the government, both of which are the cornerstones of modern democracy.