Could the Government arrest me for dissenting?

Policy Making Jun 18, 2021

What is it?

Sedition refers to the conduct or speech inciting individuals to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch. Indian Penal Code’s (IPC’s) Section 124A states a punishment of 3 years or life imprisonment with or without an added fine if anyone excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India, with words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or visible representation, or otherwise. This coupled with the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) of 1967 and the National Security Act (NSA) of 1980 are used to prevent “sedition” in India.

Why now?

Sedition became such a hot topic recently because of the back-to-back decisions as well as the comments of the Supreme Court(SC) on it. On June 1, while hearing the case regarding the two Telugu news channels, the court scrutinized the “ambit and parameters” of the laws governing sedition, especially in the context of the electronic and print media’s right to communicate news and information. The bench commented that the sedition FIRs against the channels was an attempt to “muzzle media freedom.”  On June 3rd, SC acquitted Vinod Dua, a journalist, from sedition and other cases filed against him by a BJP functionary in Himachal Pradesh for his remarks against the Prime Minister. The court observed that every journalist is entitled to protection under the Kedar Nath Singh judgment of 1962.

Kedarnath Judgement 1962

Kedar Nath Singh vs the State of Bihar serves as a landmark case regarding sedition. The disputed speech of Kedar Nath Singh, against the then Congress government, taken as a whole, was found to be seditious. Singh challenged the constitutionality of IPC Section 124A. The bench had upheld the constitutionality of the law for the maintenance of public order while laying down the principles which ought to govern its application. Its impact was restricted to “intention or tendency to create public disorder”. The Lalit-Saran bench borrowed those principles to quash the FIR against Dua.

Lohia judgment 1960

However, that had disregarded a previous judgment of a five-judge bench of the court in The Superintendent, Central Prison, Fatehgarh vs Dr.Ram Manohar Lohia (1960) case which specified  “public order” in Article 19(2). The SC had rejected that encouraging people to break one law could lead to revolution. Lohia was prosecuted under the United Provinces Special Powers Act of 1932, instigating people against paying taxes or other liabilities. The SC termed it unconstitutional. It held that only a close connection with public order, not one far-fetched, would be liable.

Dissent and Sedition

People in power have always tried to curb dissent. The recent trend, though, is worrying. The CAA(Citizenship Amendment Act) protesters,  Siddique Kappan, journalist (Hathras gang rape), the 23-year old Disha Ravi, or news outlets showing COVID reality were slapped with sedition, UAPA, NSA, or any combination of the three. India has ranked 140 on the Press Freedom Index, becoming one of the most dangerous countries for journalists.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court judgments have given some relief. However, the debate over this colonial law continues. One wonders what would be the result of it all.

This article has been written by Ruchi Thakur for The Paradigm

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