The Bombay High Court Tuesday heard a petition filed by actor Kangana Ranaut and her sister Rangoli, challenging a Bandra magistrate’s court order that had directed Mumbai Police to take cognizance of a complaint against them for alleged hate posts and statements on social and electronic media. While perusing the complaint, the bench enquired about the invocation of Section 124A (sedition) in cases and asked if police officers can be made to undergo workshops about its use. This is not the first time the High Court has raised issues with the invocation of sedition in a case.
What observation did the Bombay High Court make in context of sedition?
Last month, the Bandra magistrate’s court had directed that an FIR be registered against Ranaut and her sister based on a private complaint by a casting director and fitness trainer. They had alleged that the Ranaut sisters had tried to “malign the Constitution” and were “creating divisions between communities and spreading communal hatred” referring to their tweets and interviews given to electronic media. Based on the court’s order, an FIR under sections including under Sections 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race), 295A (deliberate acts hurting religious sentiments) and 124A (sedition), 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code.
Against this, Ranaut’s lawyer had approached the Bombay High Court, seeking quashing of the FIR. On Tuesday, the division bench of Justices S S Shinde and M S Karnik while perusing the complaint observed, “It has become routine that IPC 124-A (sedition) is added in complaint. For what? Are we treating citizens of the country like this? We understand other sections being added but why 124-A?… what if anybody does not fall in line of the government?” The court also asked the state government’s lawyer, “Why are police officers invoking Section IPC 124-A? Please conduct workshops for police officers. Not in this particular case but for any case.”📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram
What is significant about the Bombay High Court’s observation on sedition?
Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code deals with sedition. It is defined as, “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”. The punishments to which offenders are liable under the provisions of this code are imprisonment for life to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added.
In recent years, the section has been invoked against those booked for participating in protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.
In 2015, the Bombay High Court while hearing a Public Interest Litigation – Sanskar Marathe vs State of Maharashtra – had observed that provisions of sedition cannot be invoked to penalise criticism of actions of the government as long as it does not incite people to violence or is done with the intention of creating public disorder. The hearing related to sedition being invoked against a cartoonist, Aseem Trivedi, who was charged with insulting India’s national symbols through his cartoons in 2012. The charge was subsequently dropped. The state government had submitted before the Bombay High Court that it will issue guidelines in the form of a circular to all police personnel to be followed before invoking sedition.
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What are these guidelines on sedition and are they still implemented?
The draft guidelines, as submitted by the Home Department of the state were accepted by the Bombay High Court in 2015, stated that certain pre-conditions must be kept in mind while applying the section.
It said, “The words, signs or representations must bring the Government (Central or State) into hatred or contempt or must cause or attempt to cause disaffection, enmity or disloyalty to the Government and the words/signs/ representation must also be an incitement to violence or must be intended or tend to create public disorder or a reasonable apprehension of public disorder; Words, signs or representations against politicians or public servants by themselves do not fall in this category unless the words/signs/representations show them as representative of the Government; Comments expressing disapproval or criticism of the Government with a view to obtaining a change of government by lawful means without any of the above are not seditious under Section 124A”.
The guidelines also said that a legal opinion in writing “which gives reasons addressing the aforesaid must be obtained from the law officer of the district followed within two weeks by a legal opinion in writing from the Public Prosecutor of the state”.
These guidelines were accepted by the High Court and a notification was issued on August 27, 2015 with a translation in Marathi as well. The guidelines, however, ran into controversy almost immediately. The guidelines first submitted before the High Court were by the NCP-Congress government in 2012. In 2015, when the notification was issued in Marathi, the two parties were in opposition and the BJP-Shiv Sena coalition had come to power.The opposition said that the Marathi translation was not in accordance with the draft submitted before the court and claimed that the draft suggested that criticism of politicians and public servants could be deemed as sedition. The ruling coalition in October informed the court that the notification was being withdrawn.
Following this, no new circular was put in place and currently no such guidelines are in place for police personnel in the state to follow before invoking sedition.
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