6th March 2020 : The Hindu Editorials Notes : Mains Sure shot


Question – What is sedition? Should the law be scrapped?

Context – The spike in sedition charges.


An overview:

  • Sedition as a concept comes from Elizabethan England, where if you criticised the king and were fomenting a rebellion, it was a crime against the state. When they ruled India, the British feared the Wahhabi rebellion. They brought the [sedition] law in, and it was used against our freedom fighters as well. Both Mahatma Gandhi and [Bal Gangadhar] Tilak were tried under this law and sentenced.
  • The sedition law was incorporated into the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in 1870 as fears of a possible uprising plagued the colonial authorities. Most of this penal code was retained intact after 1947. Despite demands to scrap it, the law of sedition remains enshrined in our statute book till today.

The view of the Supreme Court: (understanding the concept)

  • The Supreme Court, in its interpretation of Section 124A, clearly says that it has to be against the state, not against the government.
  • Onecan criticise the BJP, the Congress, Mamata Banerjee, or the Communist parties. That is not sedition. When one starts criticising the constitutional state of India, that is when they invite the charge of sedition and even there the Supreme Court clearly says that there has to be a direct incitement to violence.

So should the law be scrapped?

Argument in support of removal:

  • the problem is with the section itself. As somebody correctly said, the essence of tyranny is in the making of harsh laws and then using those laws selectively against the people.
  • So, it’s like this, administrators like this tool handy. Take away the tool and come back with specific laws on hate speech and speeches that incite violence. That is understandable, but to elevate ordinary dissent into an anti-national insurrection or uprising is certainly not on. The point is that if you keep a harsh law on the statute book, there will be misuse. And there’s no sense applying ointment thereafter. This has been on the statute book for more than 100 years. Experience has shown that it does not actually work. Experience has shown that it has led to great abuse. It’s time that we scrapped it and came up with something else.

Argument against:

  • It is not compulsory that one needs to remove this law. It falls on the judiciary to protect Articles 19 and Article 21 of the Constitution. Justice Kurian Joseph recently made some anguished remarks that the police is neither independent nor professional. The time has come for the judiciary to set up a search committee in every State, and a particular judge of the High Court has to suo moto check each sedition case being filed. And if it is baseless, if it has been used to only terrorise the ordinary citizen expressing his views, it must be quashed without putting the onus on the citizen to come to the court.
  • One can argue that the police have become totally politicised, but who is to stop this? Who is to guard the citizens? It is the judiciary that has been charged with this job and they can’t expect the ordinary citizen to always come to the court. Our legal aid system is just not as robust as it should be. The problem is not with the section, but with its abuse.

Is hate speech and sedition the same?

  • Hate speech is a totally different offence from sedition. Hate speech is when you provoke violence between two communities. You are not abusing the state. You are not telling people to revolt against the state. When you challenge the constitutional scheme of India, that is sedition. But when you provoke violence against a particular community, that is hate speech.

Way forward:

  • The people must be made aware about the constitution and its provisions. It is then that the abuse and misuse of power can be checked.
  • Also the judiciary being the check against the arbitrariness of the executive needs to play a more proactive role.

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