Daily Current Affairs – 16th February, 2016DEVENDRA VISHWAKARMA
Sedition: An unconstitutional tool
Section 124A of the IPC defines sedition and says:
- Whoever by words either spoken or written or by signs or by visible representation or otherwise brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, the government established by law; or
- Whoever by the above means excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law, has committed the offence of sedition.
What the section tries to achieve?
There should be no attempt by any individual or sections, to excite hatred or contempt or disaffection.
In other words, even if the impugned speech or article or cartoon seeks to obtain the alteration of the wrong governmental decisions, if they excite hatred, contempt or disaffection towards the government, the author of the speech and others are liable to be charged with sedition and punished.
Infringement of rights under Article 19:
- Article 19(1)(a) guarantees freedom of speech and expression to all the citizens.
- However, Article 19(2) talks about “reasonable restrictions” on freedom of speech and expression, in interests of “public order”.
- Article 19(2) has been used by the governments to suppress constructive criticisms by the public, on faulty and wrong governmental decisions.
What is Supreme Courts view on sedition?
Indian Supreme Court has developed a rich and robust jurisprudence of free speech and, with a few exceptions, has generally ruled in favour of free speech against repressive measures.
- The Constitution bench of the Supreme Court explained the amplitude of sedition in 1962 in the case of Kedarnath Vs. State of Bihar (1962)—
- The court adopted the view that, a person can be charged with sedition only if there is “incitement to violence” in his speech or writing or an “intention to create disorder”
- Failed to establish any rational test on how to determine when speech in disaffection of the government could be construed as causing a disruption of public order
- The famous Shreya Singhal Judgement that held Section 66A of the Information Technology Act to be in violation of Article 19(1)(a) bears a testimony to the above mentioned statement
- Struck down the provision on grounds of it being vague and having overreach
- Recognised “chilling effects” as one of the ways in which it violated Article 19(1)(a)
- Recognised in the Khushboo judgment (2010), in which the court said, “If the complainants vehemently disagreed with the appellant’s views, then they should have contested her views through the news media or any other public platform. The law should not be used in a manner that has chilling effects on the ‘freedom of speech and expression’.”
The move that led to the arrest of the President of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Students’ Union, on complaints of sedition-
- Presents with vivid clarity the governments pointed efforts at quelling any and every form of dissent
- The invocation of Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, provides a stark reminder of the sheer depravity of some of our antiquated, colonial-era laws
Jurisprudence of free speech in India—Differing Opinions
Provides us with a platform to challenge unreasonable acts of the state
- Strategies outlined to describe a mode of using the law for the most illegal purposes by the most lawless groups —
- The Slapp suits (strategic legal action against public participation),
- Kicks (criminal intimidatory coercive knockout strategies)
Question of repealing or striking down on the grounds that they violate Article 19(1)(a)—
- Most of these laws have, in fact, been challenged and their constitutional validity has already been upheld
- Section 295A (“deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs”) was found to be constitutional in the Ramjilal Modi case (1957)
- Section 124A (sedition) was held to be constitutional in the Kedarnath case (1962)