The debate over the relevance of the colonial-era Sedition Act has again come to the forefront. I don’t want to put a view on whether Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid or Anirban Bhattacharya’s action was anti-India. It is for the Supreme Court to take a stance on it. As a citizen, I feel their statement in support of a terrorist and against India were surely condemn-able and the Court is best placed to take the appropriate judicial action. But there is also an urgent need to update the archaic Sedition Act.
The origin of this law dates back to the 1870s when the British used it as an easy solution to curb any kind of anti-British protest. Frankly the motivation of enacting this law dates back even further to the 1857 protests and freedom struggle. So when the Indian Republic adopted a new constituency in 1950, it would have been only appropriate new laws and enact updated provisions to curb anti-democracy steps and measures. However, the state of affairs is quite different. This law continued to be in practice as Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code and not just that it is often seen as a means to further political ambitions and aspirations.
Just between 2014 – 2017 almost 165 people have been charged with this Act. Anticipating a potential misuse, the Supreme Court of India had restricted its usage to only cases of clear incitement of violence. But even this has not deterred the Governments from its regular usage. Almost every year starting from the times of Jawaharlal Nehru, we have seen repressive actions being taken against those criticizing issues with Governance and leaders in power. From men being arrested for tweeting against Chidambaram’s son to India being the first country to ban Satanic verses, there are innumerable instances of Official encroachment on individual right to expression.
That said I am not condoning the shameful support of terrorists but we surely cannot use an act that was originally created to suppress colonial subjects against our own people. Therefore, the need of the hour is a unified stance by the Government in power and the Opposition to work towards protecting the country’s interest and not succumbing to individual interest. It is not the time for Kapil Sibbal to gain mileage by pointing out the number of times that BJP used the act or the BJP hitting back with instances that Congress used it. Governments without exception have misused this Act in many ways. The time now is to create a modern policy that upholds every Indian’s right to expression without compromising national security.