SEDITION LAWS IN THE LIGHT OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND EXPRESSION
The Constitution of India, 1905, defines freedom of speech and expression within the Article 19(1)(a). Under this article, an individual has the right to convey his thoughts, opinions and concepts publicly. This article is instrumental in permitting individuals their aspiration of achieving a sensation of self-fulfilment. A liberal democracy is characterised by the idea of ‘governance by the self’ and affording the individual to broadcast his opinion across all hues. In such a society, a conflict between the State and therefore the individual’s opinion is sure to exist. Punishing or curtailing a private for depreciating the authority of the judiciary or State contradicts the abstract theory of the promotion of a right to free speech and expression. Sedition is defined in section 124A within The Indian Penal Code, 1806, which states that, "any person 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".
Sedition is an artefact of the British empire and is unsuited for a democracy. It is a constraint on the legitimate exercise of constitutionally guaranteed liberty of speech and expression. Dissenting and criticising the government are essential ingredients of a powerful debate in a democratic country. They shouldn't be misunderstood as sedition. It is the right of the citizen to question and criticize the sovereign ,and this is the fundamental thought of democracy. The British introduced sedition as a punishable offence to oppress those Indians that spoke anything against the authoritarian government .However, the government should now abolish this draconian law because India is now a democratic country, which means the “will of the citizen of India is Supreme”. So, there's no reason to make sedition a punishable offence. The terms used under Section 124A like 'disaffection' are vague and subject to different interpretation by the investigating officers. Various acts like, The Indian Penal Code and The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act have have been enacted to penalize "disrupting the general public order" or "overthrowing the government with violence and illegal means", and these are sufficient for protecting and preserving the national status and integrity.
The constitutional validity of section 124A of The Indian Penal Code, 1806, was challenged in the case of Kedar Nath Vs State of Bihar (1962), wherein the court had upheld the validity of the said Act, and also stated that a citizen holds a right to criticise or comment about the government, or its measures either in writing or through speech, and if his criticism does not incite people to violence against the government established by law or with the intention of making public disorder, then he is not held liable. In September 2016, the Supreme Court had reiterated these necessary safeguards and ordered that they ought to be followed by all authorities.
In another case of, Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, the Court laid that there must be a clear connection between the utterance and the potentiality of public disorder caused by the said utterance . This is a progressive step to limit the scope of sedition. The Court in this case, positioned the requirement for a substantive and a procedural analysis of the restrictive law to determine its reasonability.
Thus, whilst applying the Section 124-A IPC, a substantive analysis has showcased the provision to be excessively broad in the interpretation of the term “disaffection”, thereby fulfilling the overbreadth and vagueness test. The procedural analysis of the punishment has proved to be a draconian provision. Thus, the restriction on free speech and its recognition as an offence under Section 124-A IPC does not seem reasonable.
50 students from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai , were arrested for raising slogans supporting a JNU student, Sharjeel Imam during an LGBT march pride. There is still no evidence that he was either inciting the crowd or advocating violence against the State; he was only expressing his deep anguish at the state of Muslims in Assam. The language maybe considered as unsavoury, but it is definitely not ‘seditious’, but still the government deemed the expression of dissent as sedition.
The recent increase in sedition cases shows that a bad law can never be a good law, and it can become a monstrosity in the hands of an authoritarian government. In 2018, the Law Commission of India suggested a re-structure or repeal of the sedition law in force, and also suggested that until that time, “Section 124A should be invoked only in cases where the intention behind any act is to disrupt public order or to overthrow the Government with violence and illegal means.”Thus, the laws on sedition should not be like other draconian laws like Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 and Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958. The educated and knowledgeable sections of the society are silent in the present day scenario over an issue concerning the integrity & sovereignty of the nation, which is harmful for a democratic nation like India. Therefore, it is the right time to uphold the idea of democracy that the founders of the Constitution envisioned . I conclude by suggesting that India should remove the word sedition from its statute books and everyday vocabulary.
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