A couple of days ago, me and my friend, The Editor, were discussing the freedom of speech that we enjoy in India, and how we have it better than other countries in the world. My friend was of the opinion that freedom of speech should be a blanket freedom that upholds even when you are abusive, or too direct. That was a good way to see it. But wasn’t it that way? “No”, he noted: “People often have to face consequences of their words in India”. But this shouldn’t be the case, should it?
After some discovery, I came across the sedition law of India, and that was where I got stuck, and that is what this post is about. The sedition law, probably, has the most stringent opposing of the idea of freedom of speech. This is section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code, and it has such a broad definition of the term sedition, that going by it, even you and me, and Rahul Gandhi, and almost everyone in India might come under its ambit. Here is how the sedition law of India goes:
124A. Sedition.—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, 102 [***] the Government established by law in 103 [India], [***] shall be punished with 104 [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. Explanation 1.—The expression “disaffection” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity. Explanation 2.—Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section. Explanation 3.—Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.
Do note the words that actually qualify you for a case of sedition. For anyone who in any way, attempts to excite disaffection towards the government, the act of sedition could be slapped. In an explanation, the word "disaffection" is clarified to disloyalty and all feelings of enmity. So suppose we are trying to raise awareness about some unfair governmental policy. This could be grounds of us being slapped with sedition. Suppose you are talking about how the government is not paying attention towards the poor and farmers. This could be inciting "disaffection" towards the government. This is such a broad word, that it could be applied in a lot of cases where should totally be the right of an individual to speak their views because true freedom of speech is all about this.
Although the government hardly ever exercises this section unless some serious uprisings come up, and need to be quelled. But this does not mean that the government cannot exercise this section. It exists to be exercised. This made me delve deeper into the issue, and I found that this act has been reproached throughout the history of our constitution. While Mahatma Gandhi called it the "rape of law", Ramachandra Guha has been campaigning against it for years now. Here are the roots of this law:
The history of the sedition law
[caption id="attachment_1465" align="aligncenter" width="640"] British Sedition Law was scrapped. The Indian version of the same law still exists.[/caption]
Sedition law (Section 124 A) has been in the Indian constitution ever since it came into being, and finds its roots to the British rule. The British came up with their sedition law back in 1661. It was in place to dissuade any public dissent. Anyone who spoke against the British Monarch was removed by enforcing this law. This law was repealed a lot of times over the history of the British kingdom after its enforcement and was finally removed completely in 1967. After it was removed, everyone was free to voice their opinion, be it favorable or unfavorable towards the government. Free thinkers have noted time and again that the voice of dissent needs to be heard at any cost, and notable works like Aeropagitica have come up to enforce the importance of naysayers. It is not always necessary to act on the words of the dissenters. But it is not fair to hold them back and quiet them completely. Freedom of speech should be absolute, and it no use controlling the public by such threats to their freedom of speech.
Repeal of the sedition law in India: Activism
[caption id="attachment_1466" align="aligncenter" width="640"] One of the basic Indian Rights of Freedom of Expression are flouted by the Sedition Law[/caption]
Amnesty International is currently running a campaign to repeal the sedition law in India. Numerous important figures and visionaries in the Indian history have requested a repeal of this law, and all for the right reasons. A government that keeps running by striking down dissent through the process of law could not provide a sense of freedom in a country that offers the Right To Freedom Of Speech And Expression. Such voices of dissidence might be overheard and countered, but striking them down at the roots would NOT give us the free India that we aim for.
Take it like this: Sedition Law (Section 124 A) cuts down one of our basic rights. Think about it.