No individual bigger than country: Supreme Court Judge

No individual bigger than country: Supreme Court Judge

There is already reasonable restriction pertaining to sovereignty and integrity of the nation that is enough to avoid the law of sedition against dissenters, he said. (Photo courtesy: sci.gov.in)

Saying that “the law of sedition is more often abused and misused than used,” senior judge of Supreme Court justice Deepak Gupta on Saturday suggested that an amendment is required to make this law non-cognisable so that no one gets arrested.

He said that merely "discussing and advocating" an idea doesn't amount to sedition unless it leads to violence.

There is already reasonable restriction pertaining to sovereignty and integrity of the nation that is enough to avoid the law of sedition against dissenters, he said.

"I am a liberal and in my view freedom of speech and expression is much more important which no one can take away...The right of freedom of opinion, the right of freedom of conscience by themselves include the extremely important right to disagree. Every society has its own rules and over a period of time when people only stick to the age old rules and conventions, society degenerates,” he said.

Justice Gupta said that this while speaking as chief guest at 15th Justice P D Desai Memorial Lecture at Law Society on “Law of Sedition in India and Freedom of Expression.”

He also clarified that these are his views not as a judge but as an individual "Deepak Gupta".

During his speech he opined that criticising government, its agencies or even armed forces alone can't be held seditious.

He said “If a person doesn’t ask questions and doesn’t raise issues questioning age old systems, no new systems would develop and the horizons of the mind will not expand. Whether it be Budha, Mahavira, Jesus Christ, Kabir, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Karl Marx or Mahatma Gandhi, new thoughts and religious practices would not have been established, if they had quietly submitted to the views of their forefathers and had not questioned the existing religious practices, beliefs and rituals.”

Quoting a paragraph from the judgement of justice Rohinton F Nariman, justice Gupta said that “discussion and advocacy are inherent constituents of the right to freedom of speech and expression. But I find in real life the art of conversation is dying. Discussions don’t happen. There are only shouting and slanging matches. These days it is said that either you agree with me or you are my enemy, or worse, you are enemy of the nation. That is not what our founding fathers envisioned our democracy.”

“It is in this context that section 124A (sedition) has to be read in the context of Article 19 of the Constitution of India. And there is no offence as long as there is no incitement to violence. You see, governments are not individuals. They are not a persona. They are bodies. Now if you criticise bodies or its policy without inciting violence that should not amount to sedition,” he said in his valedictory address.

He continued that “during the dark days of Emergency that some attempt was made by one party president to equate his leader with the country. That attempt failed miserably, and I hope that nobody tries to recreate such an image that any individual is bigger than the country. There is no individual bigger than the country. Our country is much bigger than any individual.”

Justice Gupta said that criticism of government functionaries may amount to defamation which can be dealt with in accordance with law but such criticism definitely don’t amount to sedition or creating disharmony (section 153A).

He said that it is said that people are being arrested for making cartoons and the police, which always claim to be short staffed in dealing with cases of rape among others, find no such crisis when it comes to cases pertaining to IPS 124A or 153A or when there is the head of state arriving.

Justice Gupta also mentioned how a journalist in Uttar Pradesh was booked for defamation by the state government for writing about school children being served rotis and salt.

He said that instead of taking action against the school principal and others, the journalist was booked.

"They say that vegetables were being prepared but why was it not served then. Yesterday, I saw on TV that many times in the past rotis with salt or rice with salt were served to students. I think the principal of the school is great follower of Gandhi who wants to do Dandi march all over again," he said.

“A very important aspect of a democracy is that the citizens should have no fear of the government. They should not be scared of expressing their views which may not be liked by those in power. These views should be expressed in a civilised manner without inciting violence," he said.

Citing the reply of Mahatma Gandhi during his trial by Britishers in a sedition case in Ahmedabad, justice Gupta said, “You can’t force people to have affection for the government and merely because people have disaffection or strongly disagree with the views of the government or express their disagreement in strong words, no sedition is made out unless they or their words promote or incite or tend to promote or incite violence and endanger public order.”

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