Kannada actor-politician Ramya is the latest to attract sedition charges for having praised Pakistan after a visit to that country. This follows close on the heels of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) complaining against alleged anti-India slogans being raised at an Amnesty International meeting in Bengaluru after which sedition charges were filed against the organisation.
Praise for Pakistan by Ramya who has refused to back down very clearly does not amount to sedition by any stretch of the imagination and this is yet another example of the law being misused by those harbouring some sort of misplaced sense of nationalism.
The law as it stands attracts a penalty of life imprisonment. This clearly frivolous charge against Ramya once again underscores the need to debate this law and how it can be used to derail the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution. In colonial times, this law was used to silence dissident Indians but today it is used freely to silence legitimate dissent.
Criticising a political leader, a particular ideology or even expressing praise for a so-called enemy nation means that you are in danger of having the sedition law slapped on you. It has been used with devastating effect against student leader Kanhaiya Kumar who was accused of raising anti-national slogans on JNU campus.
The definition of sedition is open-ended. It refers to anyone who attempts to bring into hatred or contempt or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government by words spoken or written or by signs or by visible representation or otherwise is guilty of the offence of sedition. Because of this loose definition, it can be interpreted in many ways to silence people who raise uncomfortable issues.
The fabric of the nation is not so fragile that an anti-India slogan or praise of another country can pose a threat to it. So we can only conclude that the sedition law is a political one which can be misused by ultra nationalists and the government of the day whenever it chooses to.
The Supreme Court itself has said in the past that mere speech does not amount to sedition. The sedition law cannot be taken off the statute books but certainly, it should be reviewed so that its ambit is narrowed in a manner that it cannot be misinterpreted or misused by people. A law which Nehru deemed obnoxious seems to have withstood the test of time as it has been a convenient tool for governments to deal with those who oppose its policies or who challenge it in any way. Activists Binayak Sen, Arundhati Roy and Uday Kumar are among those who have attracted sedition charges. The police that file these charges seem to have no clue about implications of the law. Anyone filing sedition charges on flimsy grounds must be discouraged by the police or judiciary.
The Ramya case is frivolous and should not have been entertained in the first place.