An intolerant and irrelevant government's draconian sedition law



The Indian government is becoming a joke by the day! Now The Economist, my favorite magazine, has written about the irrelevance of Rahul Gandhi in an article asking, “What’s the point of Rahul Gandhi?” Before that, TIME magazine had dubbed our Prime Minister as an underachiever! The harsh truth is that the term ‘underachiever’ is such a mild word to use for a politically comatose man who has been literally sleep-walking in his monotone voice over his two stints.What a letdown for a democracy and the electorate, for never has India had a worse and more inactive man as its Prime Minister. And then, of course, Washington Post came down heavily on him. And what was the Indian government’s reaction? Well, like immature intolerant fools, they lodged an official protest – exposing to the world that the article was indeed right and more; exposing to the world the government’s mindset, which looks eerily similar to that of Mamata, who shows complete disdain for democratic values and goes about arresting lecturers to farmers – and betraying the sentiments of the same democracy and all those voters who brought her to power. And if that was not enough, then the Indian government gets a cartoonist arrested by using a law that should have been discarded ages back. Yes, it is the same mindset which protests against a Washington Post article, that gets a professor arrested for sharing cartoons on Facebook, that makes an Aseem Trivedi a victim of an archaic law! The way this law has been used to suppress the voice of Binayak Sen earlier, and that of his likes, stinks of an intolerant and draconian government that is becoming irrelevant by the day. It is a matter of utter shame how even today, we cling on to our colonial past and their discriminatory laws, which were crafted to bootlick a select few who ran the government.

The completely shameful arrest of Aseem Trivedi has brought to light again this prevailing archaic law whose legitimacy can only be comprehended after going into its historical milieu and the reason why it was drafted. As I wrote last year during the Binayak Sen case (Read my two related editorials at http://arindamchaudhuri.blogspot.in/2011/01/binayak-sen-victim-of-state-and.html and http://www.thesundayindian.com/en/story/-change-sedition-law-free-binayak-sen/13763/), in the Indian context, sedition dates back to the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, wherein the objective was to forcefully suppress the democratic aspirations of a particular section of society. The skeleton of this section was derived from the common law of seditious libel, meant to control press and publications during that time. This law, regardless of being touted as curbing resistance, is nothing but a rotten remnant of the colonial past with the sole intent of suppressing potential paradigm change-makers. In its current state, the yardstick that gauges the amplitude of disaffection and the resultant violence is very vaguely defined and is highly subjective.

Raising its voice against such inhuman law, especially during times where people around the world are being made freer in terms of expressing their views, the International Human Rights Watch requested the Indian Parliament to immediately repeal the sedition law, which local authorities are arbitrarily using to silence peaceful political dissent. The biggest irony is how the High Courts have gone against the Supreme Court’s ruling that clearly demarcates sedition from other acts by stating that “prosecution under the sedition law requires incitement to violence”. This dates back to 1962 when the Supreme Court, in the Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar case, ruled that the charge of sedition can only be slapped if the accused incited violence through his speech. Otherwise, invoking the sedition law would violate freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution under Article 19, the Apex Court had added. And at no given point of time did Aseem Trivedi resort to violence or propagate any such activity. More so, such an archaic law even jeopardises the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by India in 1979, which ensures full freedom of expression and prohibits any kind of restrictions. Unfortunately, the sedition law is at the discretion and mercy of those illiterate power holders who misuse the same to victimise those who raise their voices against prejudiced and discriminatory systems and corrupt practices!

Look at examples from around the world related to this law. In September 2010, even the Ugandan judiciary ruled that their sedition law was inconsistent with the principles of freedom of speech and ruled in favour of press freedom by declaring the criminal sedition offence as being unconstitutional! The sedition law in Malaysia is used to curb criticism of the state by non-Malays and to protect political elitism! However, this law is being criticised considerably in that nation and is under review. In Singapore, the maximum jail term for distributing a seditious publication is three years and not a lifetime. While in developed countries like the UK, the last prosecution for sedition occurred in 1972, by 1977, the common law offence of sedition was abolished. The Sedition Act of 1798 in US that was used by the powers-that-be and the elite classes of society for political and other benefits was abolished by Thomas Jefferson after he came to power. Similarly, it was repealed in New Zealand in 2007. On the contrary, the sedition law, in our context, is indicative of our insane penchant for our colonial past! It also speaks volumes about how we are still following laws that have either been annulled or abolished in most other countries. It is a matter of utter disgrace that the world’s largest democracy is having laws, which were once hurdles in the path of its own freedom struggle and which are blatantly against the very definition of democratic rights in today’s context.

Going by this, the Supreme Court should immediately bring out a strict directive and ensure that no innocent individual like Aseem Trivedi gets victimised even for one day in the future due to such an archaic law. For that, it also needs to be assertive and come down heavily on this draconian law and, needless to mention again, abolish it outright

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