Is it time to junk India’s sedition law?

  • Two back-to-back judgements, one by the Supreme Court (SC) and another by a lower court in cases involving charges of sedition have once again brought into focus the ‘misuse’ of the sedition law — Section 124A of Indian Penal Code (IPC) — as the apex court on Wednesday dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) against former J&K CM Farooq Abdullah, which had charged him with indulging in a “seditious act”.
  • Ruling that “expression of views which is dissent and different from the opinion of the government can not be termed seditious”, the SC also imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 on the petitioners — Rajat Sharma and Neh Srivastava, both belonging to an organisation, Vishwa Guru India Vision of Sardar Patel — after they failed to substantiate the allegation that Abdullah was being helped by China and Pakistan against India to speak up against the abrogation of Article 370.
  • The PIL had alleged that Abdullah was conspiring to “hand over” Kashmir to China as he had “made the live statement that for restoring Article 370 he would take help of China”. Abdullah had been detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA) in August 2019 following the abrogation of Article 370 and was released in March 2020.
  • The ruling in Abdullah’s case is the second such judgement within a week, saying that a disagreement with the government’s views and policies could not be termed sedition. Last week, in a significant ruling that granted bail to 22-year old climate change activist Disha Ravi, a Delhi Sessions Court had said that “the offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of the government”, adding further that the government couldn’t put people “behind bars simply because they choose to disagree with the state policies”.
  • Interestingly, while the Indian sedition law penalises a person who “by words, either spoken or written…excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government”, the US sedition law, rarely invoked due to the freedom of speech enshrined in its Constitution, defines sedition as an act carried out “by force” against the government. The UK, on which much of Indian jurisprudence is based, abolished its sedition law in 2009.

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