SC does well to clarify sedition law

SC does well to clarify sedition law

The Supreme Court has done well to again clarify what constitutes sedition under the Indian laws and, more importantly, at a practical plane what does not amount to sedition. It has not made a new interpretation or explication of Section 124A of the IPC which defines sedition but only reiterated the guidelines a Constitution bench of the court had laid down for invoking the provision. In the landmark case of Kidar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar in 1962, the court had held that only words or actions intended to create public disorder or violence would attract charges under the sedition law. This clearly leaves out words or actions which create bad feeling or a feeling of enmity or hatred towards the government or people in power. Relying on the past judgment and the guidelines, the judges have clearly said that a statement critical of the government cannot be considered an offence under the sedition or even the defamation law.

The court’s clarification is needed when the law is indiscriminately used by governments at the Centre and in states to suppress and punish dissent and criticism and to curb freedom of expression. It has been used against political adversaries, student leaders, artists, writers, cartoonists and many others, only because they led agitations or campaigns against governments or leaders or criticised them. It was even ridiculously invoked against a film actress who said that Pakistan is not hell. Thirty sedition cases were registered in the country against 73 people in 2015. The temptation to book cases under the sedition law has been increasing from year to year. This may be because of an increasing intolerance to criticism, the tendency to deal in the harshest manner with anything considered to be an offence or even ignorance of the provisions of law. Whatever be the case, the increasing use of the sedition law shrinks the space for dissent and curbs freedom of expression.

The court said that the merit of the sedition charge has to be evaluated from case to case and so has declined to issue a general direction. By the time a case comes to the court for a decision, the victim would already have been harassed and persecuted. The words “tendency” or “intention” to create public disorder can be interpreted by the police subjectively to suit the government’s tendency or intention. Even if the case is rejected by the court, the victim would undergo mental and physical suffering. Section 124A is a colonial law which is against the democratic ethos of the country. There is a case for scrapping it altogether, as it has scope for misuse even after the court’s clarification.
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