Sedition: A colonial remnant in democratic India
None other than Mahatma Gandhi had once described “sedition” as “the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen”. Gandhi, also a victim of this draconian law, forcefully critiqued disaffection towards government as grounds for sedition by saying, “Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by the law. If one has no affection for a person, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote or incite to violence.” Introduced by the British back in 1870, Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code was introduced to censure dissenting voices from Indian media, intellectuals, scholars and freedom fighters. However, 156 years after it was introduced, the law lives on as a colonial remnant and continues to be exploited as per the whims and fancies of the powers that be.
Interestingly, the country which gave India its sedition law, the United Kingdom, repealed the act in 2009.
Scotland followed in 2010. South Korea did away with its sedition laws during legal and democratic reforms in 1988. In 2007, Indonesia declared sedition as “unconstitutional”, saying it had been derived from its colonial Dutch masters.
Among the countries that hold on to sedition as a criminal act include Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Iran, Uzbekistan, Sudan, Senegal and Turkey.
What is sedition?
According to section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code, a person commits the crime of sedition if he/she brings or attempts to bring hatred or contempt to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India. It can be by words, either spoken, or written, by signs or by visible representation or otherwise. The law makes it clear that criticism of public measures or comment on government action, however strongly worded, would be within reasonable limits and would be consistent with the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression.
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This year has seen an unusually high number of sedition-related controversies, with the casual application of the law posing a threat to free expression.
We take a look back at some of the famous cases in which charges were slapped for sedition this year.