Sedition law on temporary pause
After much hemming and hawing and a stiff defence by the Solicitor General defending the Central Government’s stances on why the sedition law is imperative to curb “disaffection against the state,” a day before the May 10 hearing the Government takes an about turn. Prime Minister Modi belatedly realized that the sedition law was being misused by the states and that such a law should have no place in an India observing 75 years of freedom. This delayed realization however did not result in a complete disowning of the sedition law by the executive. Time was sought for a better understanding of how to check anti-nationals and terrorists as if the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) was not enough to incarcerate persons booked under that Act. That a colonial law dating back to the 1800s and which was examined by a 5-bench judge way back in 1962 at a time when India was just 15 years old as an independent country only 12 years old as a republic, should continue to this day is a matter of regret. In fact sedition is not the only archaic colonial baggage. We also have the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) enacted by the British to curb the Indian resistance movement.
For India to rely heavily on colonial laws to deal with its own people shows a lack of discernment and an inability to decolonise the mind. It also demeans the ability of the parliament of this country and the collective minds of its jurists to enact better, more enlightened laws that are not subject to abuse. Between 2010 and 2020, there have been 13,306 sedition cases filed against different individuals which includes activists and media persons which includes cartoonists and artists. Amongst them was the late Fr Stan Swamy who worked for tribal rights. That a state would incarcerate a priest that works at empowering tribals should have alerted all Indians at the impunity at which the sedition law is being abused. In the case of those accused of the Bhima Koregaon case their computers have been fed with a virus that strengthens the case of the state against them. In all of these cases the police have been used across states to carry out the diktat of the ruling Party. Criticism against the government by way of a tweet or a Facebook post is taken as seditious. Critiquing the Government is the duty of the media whose freedom has incidentally been greatly curtailed in these tortuous times when media houses have by and large learnt to self regulate lest they face sedition charges that hang over their heads like the sword of Damocles.
Mahatma Gandhi had termed Section 124(A) of the sedition law under which he spent six years in jail as the “Prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen.” For now, the Supreme Court has kept sedition on pause and told states not to file cases under this law and if filed then the courts would ensure that the matter is treated as per the apex court directives. This respite is until July 3 after which the apex court will take a longer view on hearing from the Government.