Sedition law in India-Recent Trends
In India Sedition law was first drafted by the British in 1837 and then re-introduced in 1870. The Sedition law in India was first used against freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1897. Do you know during which epidemic the British used sedition law against Tilak? “Corona Virus” Not Corona, but Plague. There was a similar bacterial infection spread across the country in those days, Bal Gangadhar Tilak was not happy with the way British were handling the epidemic and he wrote some articles in his newspaper “Kesari” against the British.
The Brits didn’t appreciate the questions raised by Tilak and they charged him in the Sedition case. So does this mean that freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak was anti-national? He certainly was but only for the British rule as the questions he was raising were causing troubles to their reputation.
As it is believed commonly, History repeats itself. Today, the country is again battling against a pandemic; doctors are being asked not to be revolutionaries and not demand Personal Protective Equipment. In another case, an FIR was filed against ‘The Wire’ editor, Siddharth Vardarajan for his article on UP CM attending the ceremony that happened at the Ram Janambhoomi during the lock down. Also, the government is discouraging any investigative reporting and questioning over the number of diseased and how the authorities are handling the situation. Government wants us to only say and write what is suitable to them. Basically, no matter who the authorities are, sedition has been used as a political tool by everyone who is in power. Sedition is simply an excuse to cripple dissent and questions that are being raised against the Government.
In colonial rule, it was used against many freedom fighters including Mahatma Gandhi. After independence, there have been vehement debates over the law. In the end though, the lawmakers agreed to keep sedition in our constitution. Jawahar Lal Nehru called this law obnoxious and objectionable in 1951, although, he also did not do anything to remove it. Even after independence, we continued using the law according to the whims and fancies of the government. Here we can say that Nehru was reasonably at fault. British themselves have revoked this law from their constitution in 2010. Yet it is constantly being used by the Indian authorities indecisively.
We have continuously protested the use of foreign goods and products in India but not sedition. We have heard the word sedition a lot and also about those on whom it was used but what exactly is sedition? Sedition literally means ‘Rajdroh’. According to the Indian Penal Code, if a person with his spoken, written words or signs or visual representation expresses hatred, contempt or disaffection against the government then it will come under sedition. If the person is found guilty of his crime then he can even be penalized with life imprisonment.
In India, even murderers are not punished so severely but mere words can make your life end in jail. Between the 1830’s and 1860’s, the Wahabi movement was the most troublesome movement against the British by that reason they have introduced the sedition law. Later, the law was amended to cripple the voices of freedom fighters such as Tilak. Consequently, sedition was left as an open ended law with various interpretations.
Hence, it has been misused constantly by all the Governments. As we keep on forwarding WhatsApp movement without checking them twice, the Government has also been charging any voice of dissent with sedition without even thinking once. Whether it is the Congress government or the BJP government, everyone is guilty of using sedition at their disposal. Even then in this country, calling out to shoot those whom the government believes are “traitors” is not sedition but casually hailing other countries is!
In many previous judgments on sedition, Courts ruled that casually chanting slogans would not account to sedition until it does not incite violence or social disorder in the country. While giving the Kedarnath judgement, the courts said that there is a need to provide some parameters on the unrestricted use of sedition by the government as it may result in encroachment of personal liberty. Courts have constantly expressed their discomfort with the irrational use of sedition by the Indian government.
In fact, in Balwant Singh Vs State of Punjab case 1995 (1) SCR 411, the courts ruled that merely shouting ‘Khalistan Zindabad’ is not sedition as it didn’t lead to violence directly. Courts have said clearly that until and unless the speech or written words do not lead to violence or agitation in the country, it would not amount to sedition. But the government doesn’t understand this clear fact. See, if there is a law which literally says that any dissatisfaction expressed with the government is sedition then it was bound to get misused.