Democracy is established on the foundation of questions, and when there remains a scissor to cut off the questions that the administration feels to be against them, then it does not remain a practical and real democracy. Rather, it becomes either an authoritarian nation, or democracy becomes just a word on a page that can be erased whenever felt as necessary. The section 124A of the Indian Penal Code is one such scissor that is a shame, written in bold, over the values of our constitution. The law of Sedition is the thing our administration is so obsessed about, and the irony is it is not even ours, but our administration proudly uses it to imprison whoever it feels is a danger to its road of authoritarian politics.
Section 124A of the Sedition Law was introduced by the British government when it felt that the voices coming out of the oppressed Indian society should be stopped from becoming bigger. So, they applied the law according to which anyone who goes against the government could be arrested by the authority without any question. If arrested and convicted, then the victim would be punished with lifetime imprisonment. The first revolutionary who was arrested due to this law was Bal Gangadhar Tilak when we wrote against the worthless policies of the British during the famine of late 1800. The mother of Sedition law is the Treason Felony act that used to eye on the words and actions of the citizens of England, and if felt as dangerous to their rule, then the individual would be arrested without any further question. Yet, in the biggest democracy we are still entertaining the draconian law that is completely against individual freedom. Then how come are we so proud of the values and ethics of our nation if we still encourage a law that cages us every time we speak against those in the administration?
Subhash Chandra Bose, Mahatma Gandhi, even Savarkar was booked under the sedition law for either writing against the oppressive bills released by the British Government or due to organising protest marches against the Raj. They all were subjected to this draconian law because they were threats to the rule. Jogendra Chandra Bose was arrested when he wrote an article against the Age of Consent bill that interferes with the religious beliefs. He also commented against the unequal and oppressive economic policies of the British government. Later he was arrested for crossing lines and speaking against the government. He was booked under the same Sedition law that we use in every situation. When Bal Gangadhar Tilak was arrested it was said in the trial that when he referred to Shivaji killing Afzal Khan he was instigating the Indians to murder British officers like Rand and Ayherst. He was arrested for speaking about the history of the country he was born in just because the authority felt it as a trigger. Due to this law, the government brought Starchey who was the most anti Indian advocate of that time. He rejected the pleas of the defense and sent Tilak to lifetime imprisonment.
Mahatma Gandhi was arrested along with Shankarlal Banker for speaking against the Raj in three of his articles. In the trial, that was attended by almost all the famous diplomats, Gandhi spoke against the very law that has arrested him and how it is a danger to India. He said:
“…Section 124 A under which I am happily charged is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the IPC designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen. Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by the law. If one has no affection for a person, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote or incite to violence. But the section under which Mr. Banker and I are charged is one under which mere promotion of disaffection is a crime. I have studied some of the cases tried under it, and I know that some of the most loved of India’s patriots have been convicted under it. I consider it a privilege, therefore, to be charged under that section. I have endeavoured to give in their briefest outline the reasons for my disaffection. I have no personal ill-will against any single administrator, much less can I have any disaffection towards the King’s person. But I hold it a virtue to be disaffected towards a Government, which in its totality has done more harm to India than the previous system. India is less manly under the British rule than she ever was before. Holding such a belief, I consider it to be a sin to have affection for the system. And it has been a precious privilege for me to be able to write what I have in the various articles tendered in as evidence against me.”
Even after all of these oppressive incidents, the framers of the Constitution still included the law of sedition. In their Draft Constitution, the Constitutional Framers included ‘sedition’ as a basis on which laws could be framed limiting the fundamental right to speech (Article 13). Today after more than a decade, the oppressive actions of the administration using the law is because of which Gandhi and others said that this law should be thrown away from the country. When staunch rationalists and intellectuals like Anand Teltumbade, Varvara Rao and Gautam Navalakha are arrested because of the presence of this law then the incidents mirror the arrests of Tilak, Gandhi, Annie Besant, Bose, Savarkar and all. It speaks about the hypocrisy of our administration. The law that has always been used to stringent the voices of dissent in our nation before our freedom is still being used whenever there’s dissent taking place in our country just because in the eyes of the administrators the dissent is the sum up of an anti national propaganda.
When a community stepped against the government to save their forests from being cut and also due to the insufficient resources they are being provided with in Jharkhand, the whole community was booked under sedition. This does not make us realise that we are living in a democracy. Rather it speaks about the falling bricks of democracy that one day may be the reason for the fall of humanity. It is rather ironic that the Britishers, who had introduced this law in India couldn’t continue it back home, the United Kingdom scrapped the sedition libel through the Coroners and Justice Act in 2009. The same move was followed by several other countries who either removed the whole legislation from their law books or renamed it to deal with specific crimes. For Instance, in Australia, where after the recommendations of Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) the term sedition was removed and replaced with references to ‘urging violence offences’. In India, however, we’re still busy encouraging this law by using it to curb the freedom of speech of anyone just because in someone’s eyes the voice is treacherous.
It becomes more hypocritic and shameful when speeches of the bigots and hate mongers are not seen as seditious. For example, when Anurag Thakur urged the people to shoot the anti CAA protesters, that wasn’t seditious. When the religious Hindu extremists tell people to take swords to protect the religion that isn’t seditious. When individuals are beaten and forced to spell that name of God in our very nation, then the act is not booked under sedition. This shows that the law is the weapon of the administration and whoever it feels is going against the rule, it imprisons him/her to set an example. This law clearly is a mark of shame on our constitution and it is high time that we raise our voice against it because one day it would eat our democracy and we won’t even understand what went wrong.
Kabir Deb is a published writer and poet. Born in Haflong and completed his Masters on Life Sciences from Assam University. His work has been published from different national and international magazine like Different bTruths, Counter Currents, Reviews, Cafe Dissensus, Spillwords magazine and his works rely on political activisvm. He recently won the Reuel International Poetry Prize in 2019. His debut book is now available in stores.