Let the sedition law be used sparingly from now on | editorials | Hindustan Times
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Let the sedition law be used sparingly from now on

In 2014, 47 cases of sedition were filed which led to the arrest of 58 people. The main problem is the police which file these cases are not aware of the parameters of the law and mistake criticism for sedition. Using a sledgehammer to crack a nut suggests that Indian society is so fragile as to fall apart at the first hint of criticism

editorials Updated: Sep 06, 2016 21:22 IST
ABVP activists shout slogans at a protest against Amnesty International India in New Delhi,  August 17
ABVP activists shout slogans at a protest against Amnesty International India in New Delhi, August 17(PTI)

This has been long overdue. The Supreme Court has clarified that sedition charges cannot be slapped on people for the mere act of criticising the government or its policies. In recent times, actor Ramya was charged with sedition for the crime of saying that Pakistan was not the hell it was made out to be, Amnesty India has been charged with sedition for its workers allegedly raising anti-India slogans at a meeting, neither of which falls within the legal definition of sedition.

The Jawaharlal Nehru University sedition case involving student leaders is a cause célèbre now. The apex court has said that the guidelines framed by the Constitution bench 54 years ago hold good in the present circumstances when it comes to what amounts to sedition. The court had said that a charge of sedition can be filed if an act or acts intended to subvert the government through violent means and acts intended to create disorder or disturbance of public peace and order by resort to violence were engaged in by anyone. It disapproved of using the sedition law for deal with criticism.

Read: Supreme Court disposes of PIL over ‘misuse’ of sedition law

In 2014, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, 47 cases of sedition were filed which led to the arrest of 58 people. The main problem is perhaps that the police which file these cases are not aware of the parameters of the law and mistake criticism for sedition. The first thing that needs to be done is for the police to be educated about what constitutes sedition so that such charges are not entertained in the first place. Using a sledgehammer to crack a nut suggests that Indian society is so fragile as to fall apart at the first hint of criticism.

Read: Anti-India slogans not always seditious: Legal experts on JNU row

The muzzling of student protesters not only undermined our democratic traditions but earned India a bad name as an intolerant nation. The issue of intolerance of dissent in India has featured on the agenda of world leaders like US President Barack Obama and recently secretary of state John Kerry. If anyone were to praise Pakistan in any form, it hardly constitutes any threat to India and certainly does not amount to sedition. The strength of India is its lively tradition of dissent and debate.

Read: US backs Amnesty over India sedition case

We pride ourselves in how different we are from Pakistan where intolerance is growing, often receiving support from many quarters. People like Binayak Sen and Arundhati Roy may have come up with uncomfortable truths but this should be rebutted with reasoned debate and not draconian laws. Both of them face sedition charges. The stir against a nuclear reactor is not sedition and neither is raising the issue of human rights violations. The apex court has set the record straight. Let the sedition law be used absolutely sparingly from now on.