The Supreme Court has rightly flagged the concerns over the widespread misuse of sedition law, a colonial instrument used by the British rulers to crush the freedom movement. It is incongruous that this draconian law continues to be invoked in this time and age across the country. The apex court has succinctly summed up the situation: sedition law is like a saw in the hands of a carpenter who cuts the entire forest instead of a tree. What is alarming is that 93 cases were filed invoking sedition charges between 2016 and 2019 but the conviction rate in such cases was just around 3.3%, a clear pointer to how the provision is being misused largely for political purposes. While examining multiple cases calling for striking down Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, the bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana wondered why it could not be scrapped as the non-bailable law was being misused to stifle political dissent. The people look up to the judiciary to intervene in such instances and not allow the legal machinery to be used by the State to suppress fundamental freedoms of citizens. The NDA government’s argument that the entire law need not be struck down but the court could lay down strict guidelines is hardly convincing. It must be pointed out that the continuance of this law is a serious threat to the functioning of institutions and individuals’ liberty. The penal provision is punishable with a jail term ranging from three years to life.
Democracy is strengthened by the plurality of opinions and the freedom to express them. The people protesting peacefully for their ideals are an important element of democracy and invoking the most severe penal provisions against them belittles democracy, trivialises terrorism and undermines the intent and purpose of Parliament in enacting a law. Criticism of the government of the day should not be viewed as anti-national activity. There are enough provisions in the IPC to deal with even those elements who incite violence, without resorting to slapping sedition charges. Unfortunately, over the years, the police have been frequently invoking sedition and UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) to silence critical citizens’ voices and put them behind bars. Several anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protesters too are facing sedition charges. It is time a national consensus was built in favour of scrapping the sedition law as it is anathema to democracy. Many countries, including the UK and Australia, have abolished the sedition law. It is time for India to follow suit. There is already a robust legal architecture in place to deal with the incitement to violence or threats to the integrity of the nation.
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