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Friday, July 30, 2021

Why government’s use of sedition law reveals a colonial mindset

The law, introduced by the British to silence nationalist voices, is now used to suppress legitimate forms of dissent. It must be repealed

Written by Binoy Viswam |
June 27, 2021 6:26:45 pm
The ideologues of RSS and BJP are eager to glorify this section of the IPC to the extent of depicting it as a synonym of affection to the nation. They forget that this law was enacted by the British colonial power in 1870 to brutally suppress the Indian freedom movement.

Laws are the by-products of socio-political stages of development. Marx held them to be a part of the superstructure of the system of which economic relations constitute the basic structure. The executive, legislature and judiciary are all closely interrelated, and linked to the basic structure. The direction of governance, law-making and its execution at every point of history are decisively influenced by the aforesaid factors. The much-debated Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) should be analysed in this background.

Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) states: “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 attempt 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”.

The ideologues of RSS and BJP are eager to glorify this section of the IPC to the extent of depicting it as a synonym of affection to the nation. They forget that this law was enacted by the British colonial power in 1870 to brutally suppress the Indian freedom movement. It is an insult to any freedom loving people that a colonial law remains untouched after seven decades of Independence, and is celebrated by the ruling classes. People who cherish the glorious saga of their country’s struggle for freedom cannot tolerate this paradox anymore. For the RSS-BJP, who had no role in the Indian freedom struggle, 124A might be an useful instrument. Hence, they rush to it every now and then to stifle voices of protest.

Mahatma Gandhi termed Section 124A as the “prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen”. The Narendra Modi government has often used it against the masses and the committed activists. Its sole intention is to suppress their genuine aspirations of freedom, peace and development. This section of IPC is in direct contradiction with Article 19 of the Constitution that guarantees freedom of opinion and expression. It runs against Article 14 (equality before law, equal protection) and Article 21 (right to life and personal liberty) in letter and spirit. One can only wonder how such a repressive law is allowed to continue in the statute books.

Section 124A has been misused multiple times and challenged in court — for instance, the Kedar Nath case in 1962 and Kanhaiya Kumar case in 2015. It was widely used to curtail dissent during the anti CAA-NRC agitations. Students, human rights activists, journalists, intellectuals have been targeted. The most recent case is of Aisha Sultana, a young filmmaker from Lakshadweep, who is facing sedition charges for questioning the actions of the administrator of the Union Territory.

The Supreme Court order in the Vinod Dua case should have been an eye-opener for the government. The Delhi High Court, in the context of cases against students of JNU and Jamia, had said that, “in its anxiety to suppress the dissent and the morbid fear that matters may go out of hand, the state has blurred the line between constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activity”.

If the government has any regard for democratic values and respect for judicial wisdom, it should repeal 124A. The single purpose of the British rulers in enacting this law was to prevent people from fomenting disaffection towards the colonial administration. It was quite natural for an imperialist government to legislate and enforce such an oppressive law to perpetuate their domination over India. The UK, in fact, got rid of this draconian law in 2010. But in India, the government of the day continues to make use of the same law to extract affection to them from the people. It reveals a colonial mindset.

The writer is secretary of the National Council, CPI and leader of the party in Parliament

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