Vol. XLIII No. 03 January 20, 2019

Scrap Sedition Law to Stop Misuse

THE Delhi police has submitted a chargesheet in court against Kanhaiya Kumar, former president of the JNU Students Union and nine others on charges of sedition.  This has come nearly three years after the police arrested Kanhaiya Kumar and others in a cooked up case regarding alleged anti-national slogans raised during a demonstration on the campus.

It is the vindictive attitude of the BJP government that led the police to invoke the charge of sedition (Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code) – a law made by the British colonial rulers to use it as a weapon against the leaders of the freedom struggle.  It is shameful that such a clause remains in the Penal Code after independence – a decision taken by the then Congress rulers to look after their class interests.

The sedition clause has been used indiscriminately by the police and various governments to target political opponents and those involved in leading popular struggles. Just a week earlier, the police in Assam, where there is a BJP government, filed a case of sedition against Hiren Gohain, a prominent intellectual, Akhil Gogoi, a political activist and Manjit Mahanta, a journalist. Their crime was to make public speeches against the introduction of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in parliament.

The sedition clause, Section 124 A, is a draconian one which is defined as “brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law”.  Under the Modi regime, anyone who opposes the government, or, criticizes the prime minister is considered to be anti-national and thus liable to be charged with sedition.

Despite the Supreme Court reading down this clause in its Kedarnath Singh judgement (1962) and stating specifically that it is applicable only when there is violence, or, explicit incitement of violence, the sedition clause in the penal code continues to be used indiscriminately.  Sometime back, some persons were arrested and charged with sedition for not standing up in a cinema hall when the national anthem was being played.

As long as the sedition clause (Section 124 A) remains in the statute book, notwithstanding the Supreme Court clarification, it is liable to be misused by the powers that be.  It is, therefore, essential that the sedition clause be scrapped from the Indian Penal Code.

Similarly, laws with preventive detention powers and deniability of bail like the National Security Act (NSA) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) are being misused.  Recently, three persons accused in a cow slaughter case in Bulandshahr have been booked under the NSA.  At the same time, those accused in the killing of Inspector Subodh Singh in the same incident have not been charged under the NSA.  Eight of the civil rights activists arrested in the so-called Elgaar Parishad conspiracy case are languishing in jail since they are booked under the provisions of the UAPA.   

The use of draconian laws to suppress dissent and political opposition must stop.  The first step in this direction is to scrap the sedition clause.

(January 16, 2019)