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Don’t use laws to stifle dissent and reverse social reforms

The promises to make the sedition law stricter are unfortunate and go against the spirit of a free republic

editorials Updated: Apr 16, 2019 23:17 IST

Hindustan Times
Home minister Rajnath Singh has stressed that a BJP-led government will make the sedition law more stringent after the elections
Home minister Rajnath Singh has stressed that a BJP-led government will make the sedition law more stringent after the elections(Nitin Kanotra / Hindustan Times)
         

The Congress’s promise of repealing the sedition law, mentioned in the party manifesto, has come under heavy attack from leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Everyone from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath has targeted the Congress party for being soft on secessionists and terrorists. Home minister Rajnath Singh has also stressed that if a BJP-led government comes to power, it will, in fact, make the sedition law more stringent. The stricter law, Mr Singh claimed, “would send shivers down the spine” of potential culprits.

This newspaper has taken a stand that the sedition law should be done away with. Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code was used by the colonial regime to suppress the freedom movement. A free Indian republic should not rely on such a law to curb dissidence. In 1962, the Supreme Court had restricted the usage of this law to cases with a clear incitement to violence. Despite these checks introduced by the apex court, governments have continued to use the law to harass citizens. It is high time that this law was thrown in the bin. The promises to make it stricter are unfortunate and go against the spirit of a free republic.

But the BJP’s idea of using laws to achieve ideological ends isn’t restricted to sedition. Recently, Mr Modi suggested in a rally in Kerala that his government, if re-elected, will give constitutional protection to religious beliefs and traditions. The context was the Supreme Court verdict which lifted the restriction on women in the menstruating age to enter the Sabrimala temple. In effect, Mr Modi is promising a law to overturn the Court’s verdict. This would be a retrograde step just like the late Rajiv Gandhi government’s decision in 1986 to pass a law to overturn the Shah Bano judgment, which allowed a divorced woman to seek enhanced maintenance from her former husband. The BJP still uses this episode to highlight the Congress’s appeasement of the orthodoxy in the minority community. However, it is now falling for the same playbook when it comes to Hindu religious practices. Using laws against citizens (sedition) or against progressive court judgments, which empower women, is a step in the wrong direction. The BJP should refrain from treading this path.

First Published: Apr 16, 2019 23:17 IST

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