Revisiting Sedition Law

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Once there was a wave going on in India, “go to Pakistan!” and the reason behind those comments because someone wrote against the Government. Not only that, for any little thing one says in social media leaves a pretty big impact on the people. Now, considering the above situation, what would actually be considered sedition. Many questions arise from these kinds of situations. So can’t we express ourselves on social media about what we feel about the current situation or talk about the government if we feel somethings are going south? What about the right to speech? Is the government isn’t made of our votes that we aren’t allowed to even keep a viewpoint? Where is democracy? Are we reliving the colonial period?

Sedition’s general meaning says

language or behaviour that is intended to persuade other people to oppose their government.”[1]

For a very long time, in the year 2016, sedition charges were in limelight again. A student of JNU; Kanhaiya Kumar dragged comments on the Government. The IPC states a long definition of sec 124A which is very complex as per the current situation and that is so obvious as we use laws that were centuries old. At that time even there were talks going on to remove the section from IPC. Hence a word has always on move to revisit the sedition law.

What is Sedition?

“The law shouldn’t be in used in a manner that has chilling effects on the freedom of speech and expression[2].” It is a punishable and non-bailable offence where a person can be punished imprisonment for life with compensation. Or three years of imprisonment with a fine. Eligibility to be convicted under sedition must include

  • words spoken or written,
  • signs
  • visible representation

which basically brings hatred among people against the government.

The law was made in the colonial period to stop the people from plotting against the government. Many freedom fighters were convicted under this section including Gandhi.

In the colonial period, as people wanted a independent nation, they kept having secret meetings and public gathering to plan about protest or remedies to make the nation free from Britishers. When, the Britishers realised about this, they stopped gathering as well secret meetings. The main aim of theirs to stop people uniting and plotting against the government. As people won’t gather or meet, there would be no unity and hence they won’t lose the authority over people or country. Hence to avoid all these mischiefs they came up with sec 124A which was always in tussle.

Not only in those days but today as well there are many who oppose the section and believe that it should be struck down. Even few Judgements like Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar, 1962 where the court held that the section is unconstitutional.

Why to revisit?

The vital reason behind questioning or revisiting this section is its constitutional validity. Many times, revisiting or repealing this section has been talking of the town. Especially since 2016 after the JNU case. Kanhaiya Kumar’s speech actually turned out to be a butterfly effect. Since him, many people actually started questioning the government actions on social media. Facebook and Twitter became a platform to express. Where these were the platforms to express, the platform to rumours or fake messages also started taking their evolved form in WhatsApp University. Not only that people were asked to leave the country, to convert their religion even threatened to death. That wasn’t enough. The IT cells actually started to take down the feeds from people’s timeline and they were charged. But people didn’t stop questing the government. Even Journalist was got threats by getting raped or even death of family members. Few were attacked and few succumbed to death. As the Covid pandemic came, Twitter became the new political platform and the involvement and repercussions were so high that Kangana Ranaut’s Twitter handle was suspended, Delhi Police demanded Twitter to take down various tweets, Twitter removed blue ticks and the future will tell us more.

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They have been through so much in these years. But the question is still unanswered. We know that fundamental rights are not absolute but what amount of freedom of speech will lead to sedition and what not. Moreover, the representative or the government which was chosen by the people of this country, if the representative or the government did not perform what are the role of people? It is anti-national to question the acts of the government or I am instigating people by asking questions?

Check pointers

There were many incidents that provoked people to request for repeal of the sec 124A of the Indian Penal Code. The recent action which was taken in the month of May 2021 by Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha and Kanhaiya Lal Shukla, who are journalists by profession have convinced the Apex court to revisit the sedition law.

In 1962, the constitutional validity of the sedition law was questioned and it was held valid. But after six decades, when we are technologically advanced and the wind is blowing in a different direction, it is a must to revisit the law again. Thanks to the journalists who approached the Court. The journalists were charged with many laws due to sharing posts and cartoons on Facebook. Wangkhemcha has been imprisoned for 210 days and Shukla is out on anticipatory bail.[3] The case was registered on 30th April 2021 in front of a three-judge bench constituting Justice UU Lalit, Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice KM Joseph. The aim of this case, as mentioned by the Senior Advocate Sanjay Ghose in his arguments:

“If it reaches a conclusion that the case was incorrectly decided, then the bench will refer the issue to the Chief Justice of India to set up a constitution bench to revisit the case and if the case reaches that stage, then it is likely to be heard by a seven-judge bench.”[4]
In his arguments, he also happens to mention that the section is vague, so the ground to repeal can be its vagueness.

Basically, the laws need to be revisited again and again. With the change in time, flexibility in law is always a must. Moreover, sometimes it is not about the law; sometimes it’s about the people.

[1] Sedition, Cambridge Dictionary, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/sedition

[2] S.Khushboo vs. Kanniammal, Supreme Court, Case no. 913 of 2010

[3] Arpan Chaturvedi, Six Decades Later, Challenge to Sedition Law is Back in the Supreme Court, Bloomberg, Quint, (May 11, 2021, 6:05 PM), https://www.bloombergquint.com/law-and-policy/six-decades-later-challenge-to-sedition-law-is-back-in-the-supreme-court

[4] Arpan Chaturvedi, Six Decades Later, Challenge to Sedition Law is Back in the Supreme Court, Bloomberg, Quint, (May 11, 2021, 6:05 PM), https://www.bloombergquint.com/law-and-policy/six-decades-later-challenge-to-sedition-law-is-back-in-the-supreme-court

Image Source: The Logical Indian

The author is an Advocate based in Bhubaneswar. Opinions are personal.

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