“Dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If dissent is not allowed, it might lead to a burst of the pressure cooker of democracy”, the Supreme Court said in a recent case. Labeling dissent as anti-national behavior strikes at the core of democracy.
THE INDIAN SEDITION LAW:
Section 124(A) of the Indian Penal Code deals with the sedition law in India. It was introduced by the British government in the colonial era of 1870 especially to control the growing revolt against the English government. It defines sedition as an act (by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise), brings or attempts to bring hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India. But according to this law, it is subjective as to what can be used to incite hatred or contempt or disaffection towards the government. Though freedom of speech can never be absolute and should be regulated in order to maintain public order, it should never be misused. It is quite possible that acts of healthy disagreement or criticism of the government might be termed as sedition as the government would not like to risk even a single vote just for the sake of an ideal democracy. This possibility has often been used to curb dissent in the past.
This landmark case was the first-ever case of sedition in the post-independent era. Kedar Nath Singh, a member of the Forward Communist Party in Bihar had commented on the Congress Party that was in power during that time. His extreme speech had angered the government and thus a case of sedition was filed against him in the Supreme Court of India. The court said that there lies a huge difference between inciting disaffection to the country through a seditious act aimed against the government and a mere criticism against the party in power.
Dr. Sen was arrested but in 2008 was awarded the Jonathan Mann Award for global health and human rights. This led to worldwide criticism against the government of Chhatisgarh. Later, 22 Nobel laureates wrote to the Indian Government requesting to release Dr. Sen so that he could receive the award he deserved well.
This is one of the landmark cases that shook the entire country. In 2012, after the death of Bala Saheb Thackrey, a college student from Mumbai posted on Facebook criticizing the shutdown of the city to mark the death of the Shiv Sena leader. One of her friends had just liked her post. Later, both the girls were charged under the sedition law along with Section 66A of the IT Act.
Shreya Singhal, a law student, had filed a petition to scrap down Section 66A of the IT Act which sought to be in violation of Article 19 (1) of the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court struck down the law, and stated that no person can be tried for sedition for the sake of unpopular speech which is not actually offensive or does not incite violence or disaffection in any case. There’s a difference between ‘advocacy’ and ‘incitement’ and one cannot be tried for mere advocacy.
THE UNLAWFUL ACTIVITIES PREVENTION ACT (UAPA):
The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act was brought into force in 1967 after the recommendation of the Committee on National Integration and Regionalism in 1963. This law barred unlawful activities and associations in India. Its main objective was to obtain power for coping with activities directed against the integrity and sovereignty of the nation. But even after several amendments in the law, it still remains subjective as to what constitutes ‘unlawful activity’. The use of words, ‘like to threaten’ or ‘likely to strike terror’ can easily be misused as a weapon in the hands of the government to curb dissent. Further, the pre-charge sheet time given to the police to investigate a case, failing which a default bail can be granted, is extended to 180 days.
There have been many such cases in the recent past where the UAPA has been misused. Activists like G.N. Saibaba, Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, Gautam Navlakha, and Akhil Gogoi are some of the names that have been arrested under this draconian law just because they had the guts to raise their voice against the injustice done by the government.
Umar Khalid –
This is one very famous name that has been tagged as a terrorist even without any single evidence proving him to be so. A student activist from JNU, had been earlier arrested on the charges of sedition when he along with his batch-mates raised slogans criticizing the government. In the recent event, where he has been booked under UAPA, he has also been charged with IPC Sections 302 (murder) 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, etc.), 124A (sedition). According to the police, he along with his friends played a major role in inciting the Delhi riots of February 2020.
This shows how time and again the draconian laws which were made with an objective to control any such behaviour that provokes disaffection against the law, has instead been used as a weapon to curb dissent of the citizens.
While delivering the 15th P D memorial lecture, Justice Chandrachud said, “A legitimate government committed to deliberate dialogue does not seek to restrict political contestation but welcomes it…A state committed to the rule of law ensures that the state apparatus is not employed to curb legitimate and peaceful protest but to create spaces conducive for deliberation”. This entirely sums up the purpose of the right to dissent in a democratic nation. Even though the governments in the past as well as present, have been seen to use the laws in every possible way to curb dissent, we can only hope that a change will be made in such affairs in the future, or rather we can be the change that we want to see. The decision is ours.