From the Viewsroom

Seditious citizens

Poornima Joshi | Updated on June 06, 2021

A representative image.   -  Reuters

The sedition law needs to be read down further given its wide use

In the Constituent Assembly debates, there is a particularly passionate set of arguments against “sedition” being one of the grounds under Article 19(2) on which freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under article 19(1)(a) could be curbed. The debate then was informed by the experience of the Colonial government using it to prosecute almost every tall leader of the freedom movement with Mahatma Gandhi accepting guilt without facing trial.

“I know that some of the most loved of India’s patriots have been convicted under it. I consider it a privilege, therefore, to be charged under that section,” he told the judge, stating that the crime was the “highest duty” of a citizen.

But no government since Independence, including the one led by first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, repealed this section despite him asserting that, “The sooner we get rid of it (Section 124A) the better.” Ironically, this particular comment in Parliament was made during the introduction of the First Amendment to the Constitution in 1951 which inserted “public order” as one of the grounds to curb freedom of speech and expression which only strengthened the case for the continued existence of 124A although the Supreme Court did read it down in the Kedar Nath Singh case of 1962. The Apex Court upheld the Constitutional validity of section 124A while restricting its application to only activities involving incitement to violence or intention or tendency to create public disorder or cause disturbance of public peace.

As is evident from the 160 per cent increase between 2016 and 2019 in the number of cases filed under Section 124A that the present dispensation has an enhanced proclivity to use the sedition law against anyone voiding anti-government views. The Supreme Court has done well to invoke Kedar Nath Singh to quash sedition charges against journalist Vinod Dua. The need is to strike down the section altogether.

Published on June 06, 2021

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