Review the sedition law, protect rights
The Supreme Court (SC)’s observation of the need to define what is or is not sedition will help minimise the misuse of the colonial-era provision to punish dissent. The apex court made this observation while restraining the Andhra Pradesh government from taking adverse action against two Telugu news channels, which have been booked under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for allegedly promoting disaffection against the state government. The court’s dissatisfaction with this provision was also clear in April when it sought a response from the Centre on a plea challenging the constitutional validity of the law.
Though the word sedition was dropped from the Constitution in 1949, Section 124A of IPC defines its scope as the intent or tendency to disturb law and order or words which seem to incite violence. The SC’s position should invite unqualified support. The State must safeguard its security and sovereignty, but it must also protect the fundamental rights of its citizens. Flimsy sedition charges are often invoked to intimidate and silence those who dissent.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, only 3% of the 93 cases filed in 2019 ended in convictions, suggesting that there was not enough evidence to uphold the charges. India has a legal architecture to deal with those trying to incite violence or threaten the integrity of the State. As India heads towards 75 years of Independence next year, it is only appropriate that SC has weighed in to distinguish between sedition and the democratic right of citizens to express dissent without being labelled enemies of the State.