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This article is written by Ranjan Dhar, pursuing Diploma in Cyber Law, Fintech Regulations and Technology Contracts offered by Lawsikho as part of his coursework.  Ranjan Dhar is an LL.B. third-year student at Kingston Law College, Kolkata.

Introduction

Sedition is a very contemporarily relevant topic of discussion in such a crucial timeline of social and political maneuvere of our country. India is a “SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC” nation, and maintenance of the “Unity and Integrity” of the nation should not only be a mere declaration on a piece of paper but, a duty for every citizen of this country. Unfortunately some of the citizens distort the meaning of secularism into appeasement showing political and sociological biases causing discordance in the society; utilize the “Freedom of Speech and Expression”, a fundamental right ensured under Article 19, in a fashionable manner to strike at the base of our National integrity like projecting terrorists who are involved in Parliament attack as national hero, or branding famous freedom fighters as terrorist, or abusing our National Army, or denial to stand and sing National Anthem, or showing disrespect to our National Flag, or observing Independence Day on 14th August instead of 15th August, or uttering “Pakistan Zindabad”/ “Bharat tere tukre honge” at JNU campus, or in very recent times condolence meeting for a terrorist’s death has been held at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) campus, or refusing to accept coins and currency commissioned by the Government of India etc. and so many acts and speeches which remains unreported,  unheard and unpunished.

Meaning and Interpretation

‘Sedition’ in its simpler meaning is any act or speech that leads to insurrection against the State. According to Section 124A, Indian Penal Code, 1860, sedition is a cognizable offence against the State by any individual whoever, by words or by signs or by visible representation or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection (includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity) towards the Government established by law in India and such offense is punishable maximally by imprisonment for life and fine.

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If we need to analyze sedition in details, we need to take accounts of various factors to look into the problem. The factors responsible for sedition include socio-economic status, education, moral values, cultural influence, and religious practices & preach by religious heads and a combination of all these factors. We also need to examine the meaning of various words, various rights vested on the citizens of the country and various duties imposed on us by our Indian constitution in the light of sedition. Now, let’s try to analyze sedition from various perspectives as mentioned.

Revolution, free speech and sedition

Although, sedition and revolt or treason are the same in meaning according to the dictionary in practice there are different implications of these words. Revolution means forcible uprooting of any Government or social order, in favor of an entirely new system of government, including its legal and political components. According to the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC), political revolutions are mainly: i) complete change from one constitution to another constitution, and ii) modification of an existing constitution. If we grossly examine the causes of revolution in world’s history, then we could find that revolution mainly arises from grievances of psychological, sociological, & political in nature and due to an economic imbalance in the society. Under U.S. Code, title 18, Part- I, Chapter 115 Treason, Sedition, and Subversive Activities have been discussed in details and also contained punishment provisions for those offenses. But, in the criminal statutes of our country like Indian Penal Code, 1860 or the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 or the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002, no provision had been made to define treason and subsequent punishment of the offense. Literally, treason means an offense of showing no loyalty to one’s country. Especially, by helping enemies, adhering to enemies and helping them to oust the existing Government. Treason should be considered as a gravest offense against a country by its nationals as compared to revolution or sedition.

The need for revolution can be neutralized through a channelized procedure of bringing changes in the democratic system of our country as guided by the Indian Constitution. Our constitution has made provision for constitutional amendments and also provisions are there to amend various statutory Acts through the legislative process in order to cater our social needs. Every individual of this country is guided by the values of the Constitution and believes in the complete democratic process for the selection of Government. But, unfortunately in our country, providing aid to the terrorist organizations (as listed in the First schedule of The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967) or its members or holding condolence meeting/rally in the premises of a national university (condolence meeting held at AMU for the death of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen terrorist Mannan Wani) are not considered as treason. The word sedition has only been defined under The Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the offenders are usually getting relieved from the charges by utilizing loopholes of rights extended to the citizens of this country by the Constitution of India. All seditious activities are getting protected under the plea of “Free Speech”.

Freedom of Speech and Sedition

Mahatma Gandhi usually used the quote: “Speech is silver, silence is gold”, but the silence of the educated peoples in present day scenario, over an issue concerning the integrity & sovereignty of the nation is harmful for the nation indeed. Thus, it is rightly quoted by Napoléon Bonaparte: “The world suffers a lot. Not because of the violence of bad people. But because of the silence of the good people.”

“Right to Freedom” in Part –III of the Constitution has guaranteed various rights as mentioned under Articles 19-22 to the citizens of this country. Among these Articles, Article 19 (1) (a) guarantees “Freedom of speech and Expression”. Now, the question comes, whether this right is an absolute right or not. This right has limitation. This right is subjected to reasonable restrictions as imposed by law on the grounds:

  1. security of the state,
  2. friendly relations with foreign states,
  3. public order,
  4. decency or morality,
  5. contempt of Court,
  6. defamation,
  7. incitement of an offense,
  8. sovereignty and integrity of India.

This means any speech should not be in contrary to any of these grounds as mentioned above.

Speech is such a powerful weapon in a democratic nation like us. Speech is used as a medium for motivating people, a tool to inculcate patriotism or treason and a device to engineer the minds of citizens in order to create balance or imbalances in the society, to unite or disintegrate a nation. People those who are ignorant to the happenings of the world and depends on media-based reports are dependent on the speech of educated, responsible and respectable persons of the country. A person who delivers a speech should take responsibility for all the impacts of the words uttered and our judiciary & administration should be prompt enough to take appropriate action against adversity related to such speech or activities. Anti- India slogans by AISA members at JNU were booked with sedition charges but Police failed to file charge sheet in due course of time and the offenders are still roaming in the society with easy punishment for the offense. This is an unfortunate and frustrated failure of justice.

Analysis of causative factors

Apparently, there are several factors that might be responsible for the birth and growth of sedition. Let us first consider education among peoples of society. Education means not only the theoretical knowledge imparted by the textbooks in Schools, Colleges or Universities but a complete education of Indian culture, character, true history, social norms and also includes psychological, spiritual or other study which could benefit the society and help in building a strong nation by making future citizens with healthy minds & strong character. Our present education system is producing lots of Lawyers, Doctors, Engineers, Scientists and Graduates in other subjects every year but, it is unable to produce talents like Rabindranath Tagore, Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose, Prof. C. V. Raman, Prof. Satyendra Nath Bose, legendary doctor & visionary like Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar etc. After independence, although we have made significant progress in science still we lack radical thinking in science & engineering. We have not yet achieved independence in terms of technological platform development except in a few departments like ISRO, BARC etc. Indian pharmaceutical companies are still lacking good research and development unit that can match the global standard. Very low numbers of patents are coming out of the laboratories which are sponsored by the appropriate Government. Moreover, educated youths are actively participating in anti-India activities like, Afjal Guru (1st year M. B. B. S. completed), Yakub Memon (a chartered accountant), Mannan Wani (a Ph.D. scholar of AMU), Kanhaiya Kumar (a Ph.D. student of JNU), Umar Khalid (a Ph.D. student of JNU) etc. and so many. Now, my question to the educators is that, are we getting the proper education to build our country or we are getting an education to be selfish, to be ignorant to our culture & religion, and to be an individual who is indifferent about the welfare and progression our society.

Secondly, the socio-economic status of an individual or group of people is another causative factor for sedition. Through the route of lower socio-economic status the offenses like fake currency distribution, illegal arms dealing, Maoists activities etc. grow. People with a lower economic group have a tendency to earn money by any means for their survival and they usually became a victim of seditious activities unknowingly. But recently, we have seen many people with higher economic status like scientist Nishant Pradeep Agrawal, or BSF jawan and many other highly educated individuals like Varavara Rao are engaged in anti-national or questionable activities. Now, my question is that, whether the socio-economic status is really responsible for the birth and growth of seditious activities or it is the psychological bent of few people who instigate others to engage in such activities.

Thirdly, degradation of moral values and cultural influence may be viewed as one of the important causative factors of sedition. Until and unless we cultivate the rich Indian culture which is the basis of our heritage, in our daily life we will never be able to know its vastness and depth. In recent times we are busy in copying the cultures of western countries but, in the process of copying, we imitate the good as well as the bad side of those cultures. It affects adversely in our regular life and also it has a deleterious effect in the lives of our children.

Fourthly, religious fundamentalism is not only a problem in this country but it is a global disease. Hatred was being spread across the society in the name of ‘jihad’ and that too was being encouraged by few religious places and preachers. Various political organizations and leaders were also provoking some communities or group of people to indulge in activities that are seditious in nature. Community hatred, in turn, induces discordance in the society and disintegration in the nation at large.  We as a citizen of this country need to be cautious and mentally trained in such a way not to give leniency to such provocation.

Discussion & conclusion

Seditious activities against the states are not only limited to hateful speech or attempts to excite disaffection (including disloyalty and enmity against the nation) but also to attempts to disintegrate the society in the name of religion or caste. We are now living in the age of internet and broadcasting of any news need not depend on print media or any conventional media reports, and now social media like Facebook, Whatsapp etc. are more strong media to accumulate mass opinion about almost any issue happening around the world at large. Unlawful association and unlawful activities are not only limited to those mentioned under Sections 2(p) and 2(o), of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, respectively; not even the unlawful assembly is limited to the scope as provided under Section 141, Indian Penal Code, 1860; neither the promotion of enmity is restricted as mentioned under the provision of Section 153A, Indian Penal Code, 1860, but collectively these activities should be termed as seditious activities. Today, people need not meet one another to form an association which may be termed as unlawful, the activities and promotion of any activities of an association might be unlawful but, in our jurisprudence, we don’t have any provision to define these activities. The terms ‘terrorist act’ as defined under Section 15 of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 and ‘cyber terrorism’ as defined under Section 66F of Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008, are not the only anti-national activities, but we need to include even those activities like denial of accepting Indian currency, fundamental religious teachings to invoke terrorism, exploiting the youths to indulge in unlawful activities, refusal to sing or to stand while National anthem is being played, interrupting or restricting the hoisting of National Flag etc. as seditious activity and make appropriate policy to address those issues judicially.

According to the sociological school of Jurisprudence, the task of law is social engineering for creating a balance between the competing interests in the society; it also deals with the practical and functional aspect of law in our society. In the pre-constitution era, sedition law was extensively used to curb political dissent against the British Government in India. After 72 years of independence, India has undergone through various reforms in social, political, economic and judicial processes in order to cater to the needs of the most diversified dynamic society of the world. So, we need to make appropriate amendments in sedition law with a view to serving the present day scenario in a better way.

Therefore, in conclusion, we need to evolve a stricter policy to cure diseases like sedition and treason, in order to maintain the sovereignty and integrity of the nation. The education system has the major responsibility to build up future Indians with a clarity of thought and power of minds to build a progressive nation. The legislature has the responsibility to address issues like discrimination in respect of caste, sex, religion or language; to channelize grievances against policies of the Government; to enroot proper procedure for criticism of the Government activities; incorporation of compulsory military service for every national; implementation of appropriate policy for asylum seekers and infiltrators. The judiciary has the highest responsibility to define and to judge accurately each and every case of sedition and treason, and impart appropriate justice to the nation.


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