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Sedition law: when will this stain of British rule be removed

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Rajesh Choudhary
There has been a huge debate inside and outside the Supreme Court over the repeal of the sedition law that was meant to suppress the voices of freedom fighters in the British Raj. Last year, a bench headed by Chief Justice NV Raman of the Supreme Court decided to examine the petition filed to repeal the law. Now the central government has said that the Supreme Court should not spend its time in examining the validity of this law, the government itself will re-examine the law. From time to time before and after independence, questions have been raised about the appropriateness of this law. The framers of the constitution did not even place the word sedition in the constitution, but this law still remains in the IPC.

treason linked to the amendment
Sedition is defined in Section-124A of the IPC. According to this, any person, whether by speech or writing or by any sign or otherwise, expresses rebellion or dissatisfaction or dissatisfaction against the Government established under the law or attempts to do so shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to life imprisonment. There may be punishment. When the Indian Penal Code was framed, the sedition law was in its draft. But when the IPC came in 1860, sedition was dropped. Later in 1870, Section-124A (Sedition) of IPC came under amendment.

Supreme Court (Photo: BCCL)

According to legal expert Gyanant Singh, the British government had made this provision to suppress the discontent of Indians against the British. The British were troubled by the fact that during the freedom struggle there were many leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who expressed dissatisfaction and dissent against the government through their speeches or articles. Other sections of the IPC were insufficient to stop it. The intention of the British rule was that the dissent or dissatisfaction with the government should be suppressed through law. There are many examples of this. Bal Gangadhar Tilak wrote an article about the removal of British rule and he was tried for sedition. Similarly freedom fighters like Ram Chandra Narayan, Annie Besant, Maulana Azad were booked for sedition and sent to jail. In 1922, Mahatma Gandhi was also accused of sedition. But he didn’t even defend himself. Gandhi then said that this crime was the fulfillment of his highest duty as a citizen.

When the country became independent, there was a long discussion about the sedition law in the Constituent Assembly. In fact, the right of expression of opinion is given under Article 19 (1). Whereas there are exceptions in Article 19(2) and the limit of expression has been fixed. Under this, there was a detailed discussion in the Constituent Assembly about whether sedition should also be included in the reasonable prohibition. In the beginning there was treason as an exception. But academician KM Munshi introduced an amendment proposal to remove sedition from the exception. Munshi said that now India is a democratic country and there is a government elected by the people. In such a situation, the government should respect the criticism and dissent of the people. Criticism of the government is the soul of democracy. Other members of the Constituent Assembly also supported Munshi’s amendment proposal. Thus sedition was not kept in the exception of freedom of expression and the word sedition could not find a place in the constitution.

After independence, in 1951, the first amendment was made to the constitution and the word public order was added to the right of freedom of expression. The judgment delivered by the Supreme Court in 1962 in the Kedarnath Singh case must be understood in the context of public order. The Supreme Court had said in its judgment that merely criticizing the government or expressing dissent does not constitute a case of sedition. A case of sedition will be made only if there is a statement which has the intention of spreading violence or the element of increasing violence is present. That is, criticizing the government or disagreeing with it is not sedition. The statement was followed by violence and the public order was disturbed, only then would a case of sedition be made. But there are already provisions in the IPC against those who violate violence and public order. There is also a provision of punishment in the IPC in case of waging war against the country or acting with the intention of waging war. So what is the justification of the sedition law?

The definition of sedition law as of now has a lot of potential for its misuse. If anyone writes against the government, expresses dissatisfaction, dissatisfaction or dissatisfaction with the government or runs any movement, then there is scope for registering a case of sedition against him. By the way, the rate of conviction in the sedition case is very low. NCRB data says that from 2015 to 2020, 356 cases of sedition were registered and 548 people arrested across the country. Of these, only 12 people were convicted.

Supreme Court question
Perhaps in view of these facts, the Supreme Court vehemently asked the Central Government that if the sedition law was used by the British to suppress the freedom movement, then there is a need to continue it even after 75 years of independence? The government has abolished 1500 laws made at that time. Don’t know why it was not seen. Keep in mind that in 124A, wide powers have been given to the police and it can impose this section on anyone. In such a situation, it is reasonable to worry that this law is being misused.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are those of the author.

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