This article is written by Shobhana Aggarwal, of Banasthali Vidyapeeth pursuing B.com L.L.B. The Amulya Leona incident is the latest case dealing with the offence of sedition. This article deals with the various aspects of this case in much detail along with the factual analysis in light of the current statutory laws and judgments on Sedition.
The provision of sedition in India has been mentioned within Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and has been subsequently dealt with in a number of cases. A person is said to have committed sedition when he or she by way of words or by signs and visual representations, brings or attempts to bring in hatred or contempt or incite disaffection towards the lawful government in India.
Sedition in India is punishable with life imprisonment along with fine or with imprisonment which may extend up to a period of three years along with fine. Sedition is considered by many as being opposed to the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) however the position regarding the constitutionality of Section 124A was settled in Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar after many cases had been dealt with in this regard.
This landmark judgment on sedition upheld the constitutionality of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and ruled that the offense of sedition shall be framed only when the alleged seditious speech or expression made was intended at inciting violence, hampering public disorder or peace. The High Court did uphold Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 but narrowed down its scope so as to maintain the sanctity of freedom of speech and expression which is a fundamental right guaranteed to all the citizens of India.
Background facts of the case
On February 21, 2020, Miss Amulya Leona a nineteen-year-old girl was recorded shouting the slogan “Pakistan Zindabad” (long live Pakistan) quite a few times at an anti-CAA(THE CITIZENSHIP (AMENDMENT) ACT, 2019) and NRC(The National Register of Citizens) protest held in central Bengaluru in the state of Karnataka. Hyderabad MP and Chief of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen ( AIMIM ) Asaduddin Owaisi was also present at the event at that time. He publicly condemned the slogans shouted by Amulya Leona and stopped her from continuing her speech on the stage. Her mike was grabbed immediately after the slogan was raised by her. The police reached the stage in no time and arrested her. The DCP of Bangalore B Ramesh (west) later informed all that the authorities had taken suo moto cognizance of this case by filing the charges under Section 124A (Sedition) and Section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups and imputations, assertion prejudicial to national integration) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Amulya Leona faced severe criticisms from many people including eminent politicians and intellectuals from throughout the country.
The main issue which arose in this case revolved around the fact whether the slogans raised by Amulya Leona fell within the ambit of Section 124A and Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The various yardsticks for a conviction for the offense of Sedition which has been laid down in Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and in the landmark case of Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar need to be fulfilled for Amulya’s conviction in the present case.
The first point which was raised was that she could not be charged for committing Sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 as she did not have the intention to do so nor was she allowed to complete her speech which would have made her positive intentions on universal brotherhood crystal clear. The major argument raised against her was the fact that she first raised the slogan for the long life of Pakistan in an antiCAA and NRC rally despite being aware of the public sentiment on the issue of Pakistan. The tone and texture in which the slogan was raised were considered by many as being an indirect way of inciting feelings of hatred and contempt against the lawful government of the country.
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan was once an integral part of the Republic of India and both the countries share a common history. Pakistan was formed in 1947 when India was partitioned into two countries on the basis of religion at the time when it gained independence from the British Rule. India has fought two major wars with Pakistan in the years of 1971 and 1999. Various disputes regarding land and the sharing of water from common rivers exist between the two countries. Severe tension and feeling of enmity exist between the two countries on the grounds of religion. Amulya Leona raised the slogan “Pakistan Zindabad” at an anti-CAA and NRC protest in Bengaluru on 21st February 2020. In light of these tense circumstances which exist between the two countries, these slogans were considered as being controversial by many people.
However just because the accused raised slogans for Pakistan’s long life she cannot be held liable for Sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. For being liable under this Section, the slogan made by her shall be such which brings or attempts to bring in hatred or contempt or disaffection towards the government established by law in the country. Moreover, such a slogan must also be intended at inciting violence and adversely affecting the public order and peace.
When the matter was further investigated, it was found that Amulya Leona was actually making a speech about universal brotherhood whereby she was taking names of various countries and raising slogans for their long period of life. However, she first took the name of Pakistan and was further stopped from saying anything. To further determine the fact whether taking the name of Pakistan first in a speech on universal brotherhood was a clever and vindictive manner of inciting violence in the country, a look and analysis of the facts of the case in light of Section 124A and Section 153A are necessary to determine the guilt of Amulya Leona.
The mere fact that she raised the slogans for the long life of a country with which our country is having hostile relations does not imply that she had the intention of inciting any form of ill feelings towards the government of her own country which is a necessary ingredient for conviction under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. The accused, Amulya Leona was making the speech taking the names of various countries on similar lines for giving out the message of universal brotherhood as said by her. A point was raised that since she was raising the slogan at an Anti-CAA and NRC protest rally, she ought to be careful about the tone and texture of what she says. The fact that she was not allowed to complete her speech after the controversial slogan acted against her as her intentions behind making the particular controversial slogan was not conveyed to the public in the manner they should have been. The slogan was raised only once and that too as a part of a speech and not as an isolated statement.
In the case of Balwant Singh and another v. State of Punjab, certain people were held by the police for the charges under Section 124A as they had raised slogans like “Khalistan Zindabad” and had demanded a separate country for Sikhs. The Supreme Court, in this case, ruled that casual raising of slogans a minuscule number of times by an individual cannot be said someone has targeted or is attempting to excite hatred, contempt, and disaffection towards the lawfully established government in the country. Thus the facts and circumstances of this case did not attract the application of Section 124A. In Amulya Leona’s case considering the facts and circumstances, the controversial slogan “ Pakistan Zindabad ” was raised only once and that too not with any mala fide intention. Such raising of slogan shall not thus fall within the ambit of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and hence cannot be termed as an act of sedition.
Another essential yardstick that is to be considered for conviction under Section 124A is the effect which the controversial piece of speech or expression has made on the general public as laid down in the landmark case of Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar. No adverse effect on the law and order situation in the country was recorded because of the slogan raised by Amulya Leona. No incidents of riots were recorded. However, she did have to face severe criticism from a section of people. Thereby, even this yardstick was not fulfilled for making the accused liable for a conviction for the offense of Sedition under Section 124A.
The case of Amulya Leona has not been decided yet. A lot of controversies arose later regarding the issue of granting bail to her. Her initial bail applications were rejected by the Sessions Court on the ground that a charge sheet had not been filed in the case, the contentions which the petitioner or the accused was raising in her bail application were the ones which were to be dealt with at the stage of a full-fledged trial by the court and that the sessions court was convinced of the fact that if granted bail, the accused might abscond from the clutches of law. The fact that the controversial slogan was made in the backdrop of the nationwide protests on the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register for Citizens created a lot of stir in the media regarding Amulya Leona. However, the legal experts have opined that it would be unlikely to witness Amulya Leona’s conviction under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code due to the provision regarding sedition.
Sedition as a penal offense was included in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 during the times of British Rule in India. It was then considered as being a severe weapon deployed by the British for suppressing the voices of the Indians seeking independence from the British rule. Even after seven decades of existence, the viewpoint that Section 124A is a draconian piece of law aimed at suppressing the voice of the masses is prevalent as it is a restriction on the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression as detailed under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India, 1950. However, even after many cases being filed against the constitutionality of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the stand in favor of its constitutionality was made clear in Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar by the Supreme Court. Several cases under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 are filed every year but convictions remain few. This points towards the intention of the Judiciary of upholding the freedom of speech and expression and not elevating Sedition as being a regular tool employed for suppressing the rightful voices of the citizens of this country.
Amulya Leona’s case is a recent case filed on Sedition in the backdrop of Anti-CAA and NRC protests. Judgment on this case has not been pronounced yet by the court. However, on the basis of the analysis made earlier, it seems unlikely as of now that Amuly Leona will have a short legal battle ahead due to the plethora of legal complexities involved hereby.
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