On Monday, the Bengaluru police lodged an FIR against Amnesty International India under the sedition laws. This was done after “independence” and “pro-freedom” slogans were raised at an event organised by Amnesty International.
While the organisation had been booked under various others sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including 142 (being a member of an unlawful assembly), 143 (whoever is a member of an unlawful assembly), 147 (rioting), and 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language), it is the use of sedition that has, once again, brought back into focus the much-abused law.
Incidentally, a debate on this section, a legacy of the British, became very vocal after JNU Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar and others were arrested in February for having committed the crime of sedition. Things returned to normal within days with Kanhaiya and others released on bail.
Much has been written about how the British rulers (mis)used this clause to stifle dissent and the independence movement. However, despite demands, including by the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, to remove this controversial clause from the statute books, it continues to be remain there and is used very often to stifle dissent against the Indian government by Indians.
This is despite many judgments by the Supreme Court, making it categorically clear that this section will not be invoked unless the allegedly seditious speech or act leads to violence or creates public disorder.
In its judgment in the landmark Balwant Singh and Another v State Of Punjab case (1995), the Supreme Court also took the police to task for using this section without proper application of mind.
The Bench observed, “In situations like that, over-sensitiveness sometimes is counter-productive and can result is inviting trouble,” adding, “Raising of some lonesome slogans, a couple of times by two individuals, without anything more, did not constitute any threat to the Government of India… (nor) could (it) give rise to feelings of enmity or hatred among different communities…”