Scrap the sedition law | HT Editorial
Rejecting a petition that sought action against former Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) chief minister and one of the country’s senior-most leaders, Farooq Abdullah, for his comments opposing the Centre’s changes in the erstwhile state, a two-judge Supreme Court (SC) bench on Wednesday said that dissent cannot be considered sedition. The bench said that “the expression of a view which is a dissent from a decision taken by the Central government itself cannot be said to be seditious”. This is an important judicial intervention and merits unequivocal support. And it comes soon after a Delhi court, while granting bail to activist Disha Ravi, who too was charged with sedition, had said that offence of sedition could not be invoked to minister to “the wounded vanity of governments”.
Any State must carefully defend its sovereignty, territorial integrity, and security interests. But this cannot be the basis to undermine the equally cherished constitutional tenets of freedom and the political structure of democracy and deny citizens their fundamental rights. Unfortunately, the executive has shown an increasing tendency to use the framework of sedition in recent years. The ministry of home affairs informed the Rajya Sabha that out of the 96 people arrested for sedition in 2019, only two were convicted. There was a 25% increase in sedition cases in 2019, which resulted in a spike in arrests, but the abysmal conviction record suggests that the cases are often not grounded in adequate evidence.
There is a larger principle involved here. India’s legal architecture has enough room to charge those whose statements or actions are meant to stir up violence against the State. Sedition, a colonial-era law, often used to implicate citizens who are exercising democratic rights of dissent, should have no space in the Constitution. In fact, the Constituent Assembly itself explicitly discussed, and rejected the idea of including sedition as a part of restrictions to free speech. But it stayed as a part of the Indian Penal Code (Section 124A), which a Constitution bench of the SC upheld in 1962, while also defining the scope of sedition. As India approaches the 75th year of its Independence, it is time to rethink the sedition law, which continues to be a reminder of colonialism and is, way too often, used to curtail the rights of free Indian citizens.