The draconian law of sedition is being used with indiscriminate alacrity in the country. This increased application has seen the National Crime Records Bureau for the first since its inception start collating data on its increased application. In 2014, NCRB recorded 47 cases of sedition leading to the arrest of 58 people. In 2015, the numbers have increased alarmingly while 2016 has seen more than 21 cases being filed.
Its indiscriminate use can be seen from the fact that a trial judge recently filed charges against the Minister of Finance Arun Jaitley for having criticised the Supreme Court’s judgement quashing the National Judicial Appointments Commission. Jaitley’s counsel took the matter to the Allahabad High Court and the case was withdrawn within a fortnight but it served to highlight its misuse.
Sedition charges were leveled against Congress vice- president Rahul Gandhi, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury, CPI leader D. Raja and JD(U) K.C. Tyagi for coming in support of JNU Student Union’s president Kanhaiya Kumar.
In Tamil Nadu, this law was used to prosecute a folk singer for singing anti-government songs. Further, during the anti-nuclear protests in Kudankulum, eleven protestors were charged for sedition for protesting the setting up of a nuclear power plant which they believed posed an environmental threat to the region.
The British introduced this law in 1870 as a tool of colonial domination. Today it is being invoked against the public sometimes for the strangest reasons. The principal of a school in Madhya Pradesh was arrested and denied bail because the school dairy showed a wrong map of J&K. A man who did not stand up when the national anthem was being played in a cinema hall finds himself being charged under this law.
The law of sedition is the highest form of offence against the state. It is listed under Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code and can be used against anyone who ` attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government’. The British kept the wording of the law ambiguous and it is this very ambiguity which has served successive Indian governments well as it can be used as an all-purpose tool to lock up anyone they don’t approve of.
This makes it an easy tool to be used against a state’s political opponents. It has been used against the patidar leader Hardik Patel, human rights activist Dr Binayak Sen and more recently, Shashidhar Venugopal, president of the Akhila Karnataka Police Mahasabha, Bengaluru, who was pressing for better working conditions of the police force .
The earlier UPA government received a tremendous amount of flak on the detention of Dr Sen who had been kept in solitary confinement for several weeks. Then law minister Veerappa Moily agreed to refer the matter to the Law Commission of India to take a fresh look at this law.
Several political leaders including L.K. Advani, Sharad Yadav and Arvind Kejriwal had all pressed for an amendment and this March, home minister Rajnath Singh had said on the floor of the Rajya Sabha that the Law Commission was in the process of carrying out a review.
The increase in cases of sedition does not bode well for a democracy. Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan who is a member of the advocacy group Common Cause has filed an FIR in the Supreme Court against the misuse of this law which he said is being used to muzzle all dissent in the country’.
Senior counsel Rebecca John believes ` the Supreme Court needed to have shown much greater leadership over this issue’ especially at a time when governments across the globe including the UK have done away with this law completely.