Explained: What is sedition law in India? Is it time to repeal the controversial British-era law
New Delhi, May 10: Sedition law is once again the subject of debate as the Narendra Modi government in a U-turn decided to 're-examine and re-consider' the provision of the controversial law in favour of protection of civil liberties and to shed the 'colonial baggage'.
Reportedly, Prime Minister Modi has expressed his view clearly in favour of protection of civil liberties, respect for human rights and giving meaning to constitutional freedoms.
The Centre also said it was cognizant of various views and concerns about civil liberties while being committed to protecting the sovereignty and integrity of this great nation.
Who drafted the sedition law?
British historian and politician Thomas Babington Macaulay drafted the sedition law under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and included it in the IPC in 1870.
What is Sedition law?
Sedition was defined as an act by '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'.
Why was it drafted?
After the suppression of the Wahabi Movement, the Britishers feared that Muslim preachers in India would wage a war against the then government, and felt the need for such a law.
First known case of sedition law
The first notable case for the offence of sedition was reported in 1891, a trial against newspaper editor Jogendra Chandra Bose.
Freedom fighters tried under the sedition law
Prominent Indian leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jogendra Chandra Bose and Lokmanya Tilak were tried under sedition law for their comments on the British rule.
What is Section 124 A of IPC?
Under section 124A of IPC, sedition is a non-bailable offense, punishable with imprisonment from three years up to life, along with a fine. They are barred from all kinds of government jobs and their passport is seized by the government.
Sedition law criticism
In post-independence India, Section 124A came under criticism at numerous intervals, being singled out for its curbing of free speech. Experts have called for the abolishing of sedition laws in the context of the 2016 protests at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
In 2018, the Law Commission of India published a consultation paper that asked for a possible amendment or repeal of the law.
During the 2019 Indian general election, the opposition Indian National Congress (INC) included a specific proposal to abolish Section 124A in their manifesto.
Critics of the law claim that sedition is an outdated law from the colonial era and it curtails the freedom of speech and that it has no place in a modern democracy.
Sedition cases between 2014-2019
According to the Union Home Ministry data, a total of 326 cases were registered under the sedition law -- the highest, 54, in Assam -- between 2014 and 2019.
Out of the cases registered, chargesheets were filed in 141 cases while only six people were convicted for the offence in six years of the period discussed in the data.
Recent instances of sedition
One of the major drawback of the law is the repeated instances of its misuse. Regimes at the Centre and the States have often invoked the section against its citizens. Over the years, many activists, detractors, writers and even cartoonists have been booked under the controversial law.
Disha Ravi, the 22-year-old climate activist was slapped with sedition charges for sharing a 'toolkit' for a global online campaign supporting the farmers' protest.
The Uttar Pradesh police's special task force (STF) has chargesheeted eight people, including Popular Front of India's students' wing leader K.A. Rauf Sherif and journalist Siddique Kappan, on charges of sedition, criminal conspiracy, funding of terror activities and other offences. They were proceeding towards Hathras, where a 19-year-old Dalit woman was gangraped.
Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam, also facing sedition law in India. Imam was charged under the UAPA in April 2020 for making allegedly inflammatory speeches at Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia University and the Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh. Three months later, the police had accused him of sedition.
Activists Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha, Surendra Gadling, late Father Stan Swamy, Arun Ferreira were also slapped with sedition charge for speeches at an Elgaar Parishad meeting ahead of the violence in Bhima Koregaon on the occasion of the bicentennial anniversary of the 1818 battle.