The notorious Section 124A of Indian Penal Code is back into limelight and this time Amnesty International India in Bangalore has been booked under this section. An event was organized as a part of its campaign for seeking justice against human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir which ended with some heated arguments and slogans. The FIR has been filed on the basis of a complaint filed by ABVP (Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad)
Section 124A and what constitutes the act of sedition:
The Indian Constitution does not define the word sedition. The word has been defined under Indian Penal Code which reads as follows-
“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, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India shall be punished with imprisonment for life to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”
Sedition defined under Section 124A has its roots in colonial rule. While the British used this to suppress the voice of the Indians demanding freedom, it should not be misused in India to suppress the freedom speech and expression of its own people. During the British rule, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi were also booked under charges of sedition.
Is it being used for the right purpose?
- This provision of law has even before been misused in several cases recently like those involving Kanhaiya Kumar, Hardik Patel, Aseem trivedi and many more. In a routine practice, our police tend to put every section in a FIR. They play safe and try to be defensive while registering a case. Which section has to be invoked in the case should come at a later stage after the complaint has been registered. There is a clear cut lack of understanding of the provision of laws among the investing agencies. When 124A is being invoked, it must be done with the consultation of the seniors.
- In the case of Amnesty International India, the Karnataka Government has said that there would be proceedings in the case only after substantial evidences are found. Hence, this is a sort of safeguard where no case can be brought to court without government’s sanction. However, the harassment of those booked under this section begins in between as the whole issue is conflated and made oversensitive by the media.
- Despite the highest judiciary of independent India reading down the Section, there appears to be little political restraint in scrapping it totally.
- The problem lies with interpretation of this provision as well. Speeches are often blown out of proportions and then deemed to be seditious. Afterwards, only the portion of the speech assumed to be seditious is totally isolated from the context in which it was made.
- The definition of sedition as mentioned in Section 124A itself has loose ends and is vague. It requires to be reconsidered. In most of the cases where this section is used, public disorder, contempt or exciting disaffection is absent. But the limitations of the section have rarely stopped the prosecuting authorities from using it.
- The Law Commission, while revisiting the issue, should take into account recent developments, especially the glaring instances of misuse of the sedition law and the tendency to invoke it against those involved in strident forms of political dissent. One way to limit its mischief is to narrow the definition.
It needs to be understood that the Republic of India is much stronger than a mere slogan or speech. There is a need to understand the ingredient of offence before 124A is used. It is time for India now to abolish these kinds of colonial laws.