In its manifesto released Tuesday, the Congress promised to scrap the colonial-era sedition law as well as make defamation only a civil offence. The manifesto, titled “Congress will deliver”, was released by party president Rahul Gandhi at an event at the AICC headquarters in New Delhi in the presence of senior party leaders Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram and others.
In the manifesto, the party promises to omit Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code and make ‘defamation’ a civil offence. It also said that it will scrap Section 124A of the IPC that defines the offence of sedition. “Sedition has been misused and, in any event, has become redundant because of subsequent laws,” the document read. The CPM has also proposed to repeal Sedition law in its manifesto.
Incidentally, cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was arrested under UPA government’s rule on charges of sedition in 2012. The Kanpur-based artist was accused of putting up banners mocking the Constitution during a rally of anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare in New Delhi and posting the same on his website. The charges were later dropped.
The party promises to amend the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) in order to strike a balance between the powers of security forces and the human rights of citizens and to remove immunity for enforced disappearance, sexual violence and torture.
The Indian Penal Code defines Section 124A of the IPC as an offence committed when any person by words or otherwise brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the government established by law. Three explanations were added to the provision that laid down ‘disaffection’ as inclusive of disloyalty and all feelings of enmity, while comments without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, will not constitute an offence.
What does not constitute as sedition is when “comments, however strongly worded, expressing disapprobation of actions of the Government, without exciting those feelings which generate the inclination to cause public disorder by acts of violence”.
Section 499 states defamation could be through words – spoken or intended to be read, through signs, and also through visible representations. These can either be published or spoken about a person with the intention of damaging the reputation of that person or with the knowledge or reason to believe that the imputation will harm his reputation. Section 500 stipulates an imprisonment of up to two years, with or without fine, for someone held guilty of criminal defamation. However, criminal defamation is a compoundable offence and parties can seek a closure of the case by reaching a compromise.