Sedition Must Go
This is the greatest tribute we can pay Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary
Today marks the Mahatma’s 150th birth anniversary, which will see many recountings of the storied political career of the ‘father of the nation’, and in which many rich tributes – mostly symbolic – will be paid to him. But if those tributes are to extend beyond the symbolic and become truly meaningful, one story in particular is worth recounting. Hauled to court on the charge of committing sedition on account of three articles he wrote in Young India, Mahatma Gandhi termed the provision “the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen.” That sedition remains the law of the land despite the British exit 72 years ago is an insult to the memory of countless freedom fighters who embraced prison for long years to win us the cherished right to free speech.
Sedition continues to be pressed against critics of government, those critical of ruling parties or ideologies, and even where criticism takes the form of song, dance, art or social media posts. Poorly framed laws lend themselves to misuse and it is no surprise that sedition with its broad definition of anything that attempts to bring “hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government” fits this bill. Section 66A of the Information Technology Act was struck down on similar grounds.
Since 1962, Supreme Court and high courts have kept stepping in to quash frivolous sedition cases against journalists, politicians, artists, activists, etc. But while SC was concerned enough to narrow seditious expression down to incitement to violence and public disorder akin to a“spark in a powder keg”, these nuances are lost on police officers eager to please political masters. Repealing sedition would be the greatest tribute India can pay the Mahatma on his 150th birth anniversary.