One may or may not agree with protesters but to say that dissenting voices attract the sedition law is unacceptable
Sedition laws should have no place in evolved democracies. Creating a climate for free expression of ideas without fear of criminal prosecution is essential for the growth of any civilisation. It is all the more important for democracies to survive. The arrest of 21-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi on charges of sedition and conspiracy in the ‘toolkit’ case related to the ongoing farmers’ protest has raised questions over the relevance of a law that was enacted by the British rulers to suppress the locals. The terrorist-like arrest of Disha Ravi, without giving her access to the lawyer of her choice, is unjust and unwise. Right to peaceful protests or activism is fundamental to constitutional freedoms. The time has come to have a re-look at the sedition law because its provisions are often misused and targeted at critics of the government of the day. In this context, the Delhi court’s observation that sedition law cannot be invoked to quieten the disquiet under the pretence of muzzling miscreants is quite significant. While granting bail to two persons arrested by the Delhi Police earlier this month for allegedly committing sedition and spreading rumours by posting fake video on farm protest on Facebook, the court said invocation of Section 124 A (sedition) of the IPC is a seriously debatable issue. One may or may not agree with protesters but to say that dissenting voices attract the sedition law is simply unacceptable. The rule of law is not a concession given by the state to its citizens and it must not depend on the benevolence of the law enforcement agencies.
The courts are expected to check the misuse of powers by the executive, particularly those affecting the right to life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, to ensure that the rule of law is preserved. It is incongruous for a liberal and free democratic country to have anti-sedition law that fights its own citizens. There has been a growing tendency among the governments, irrespective of the party in power, to invoke the provisions of sedition law against people for staging protests. Before Independence, this law was used by the British to suppress the freedom movement. Ironically, the same draconian law has become a tool to be used against its own people. In an ideal democracy, people should not have any fear of government’s persecution while expressing their views. The government’s argument for retaining the sedition law is that the Supreme Court had repeatedly observed that mere possibility of misuse of a provision does not per se invalidate the legislation. However, in order to uphold the idea of democracy that the founders of the Constitution envisioned, India should eschew the word sedition from its statute books.
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