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Should We repeal Sedition Law?

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By Himanshu Guru: After the arrest of political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi on the charges of sedition, a serious question winks into the mind, how the term ‘sedition’ will be defined? Making a cartoon or mocking at the government is crime? Or people involved in terror or anti-national activities should roam freely on the streets as they were not arrested on the charges of sedition?

It is time now for repeal of the sedition law in India. Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) should be repealed now, as there is no meaning of freedom in the presence of such a draconian law, which otherwise infringes the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression as provided by the constitution, if used by the government with an intention to suppress the free dialogue of a citizen.

IPC was enacted in 1860 during the British Colonial rule in India to suppress the then patriotic Indians or the freedom struggle. It would have been the right step, if a new Penal Code could have been enacted with the emergence of free India in 1947, but the new government wanted to continue a penal code, that was made by the foreign rulers. But still it is not late and after the burning case of Aseem Trivedi, it is clear now that the law regarding sedition (as provided in the IPC) is no more needed in current India.

India’s first Prime Minister and freedom fighter Jawaharlal Nehru had also opposed the law. He had reportedly said in 1951 that the Section 124 (A) of the Indian Penal Code was highly objectionable and obnoxious.

The question of repeal of the sedition law contained in section 124A of IPC has created a big buzz after the recent case of Trivedi, following his arrest with a charge of ‘sedition’.

Section 124A (Sedition) of IPC provides that Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in [India], shall be punished with [imprisonment for life],to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine, along with three explanations.

The difference between disaffection towards the government and disaffection towards the state must be keenly observed and analyzed so as to reach to a justified goal. Disaffection to a government is different from disaffection to the State.

The act should be repealed as it seems to infringe the very definition and nature of democracy. Not only now, but long ago great people like Mahatma Gandhi, Tilak, Maulana Azad and Annie Besant were reportedly convicted under this law by the colonial rulers.

The said provision of law also is not at par with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which guarantees freedom of speech and expression. Also, in free India this law has been seen to have been used to choke the voice of Journalists, Human rights activists, political dissenters in many instances.

In several democratic countries have either repealed this law or discontinued prosecutions. We can see that in the US the Sedition Act of 1918 was enacted on May 16, 1918 that was an extension of the Espionage Act of 1917 to cover a broader range of offenses including speech and the expression of opinion. But soon, within the span of merely 2 years the same was repealed on December 13, 1920 as it could be felt that it was not required.

Adding to that Markandey Katju, chairman of the Press Council of India, has advocated in favor of repeal of the sedition law. He reportedly moved one step further claiming initiation of criminal prosecution against both the police officers, who arrested Trivedi and the politicians who were too quick to brand the act of Trivedi as anti-national.

Hence, all these affirmative claims and developments go in favor of repealing of the sedition law from the Indian Penal Code and so it should be repealed.

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