A national seminar was held under the auspices of PUCL in May 2011 deliberating on increasing attack on life and liberty of the people in the country. The participating organisations felt that there are certain anti-democratic laws in the country which are being used against the people and the law on sedition is one of the worst amongst them.
For the last few months, PUCL and constituent organisations have been generating awareness against this anti-people law through an all India signature campaign. To launch an all India campaign against the Sedition and other repressive laws, an all India convention is being held on 31 Jan 2012 from 10 AM to 5 PM at the Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi.
It must be noted that the sedition law contained in section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code is a legacy of the colonial era. It makes creating hatred or contempt for or disaffection towards the government established by Law in India, an act of sedition punishable with imprisonment for life, whether such disaffection, hatred or contempt is created by words spoken or written or by signs or visible representation.
Section 124 A was introduced by the British Government in 1870 when the colonial government felt that such a draconian law was needed to suppress the freedom struggle. Some of the most famous sedition trials of 19th and early 20th centuries were those of Indian nationalist leaders including Tilak, Gandhi and Maulana Azad. All the repressive laws used by the British against the freedom struggle have been retained in Independent India, despite constitutional provisions mandating scrutiny.
It is necessary to note here that in the original draft of the Constitution `sedition’ was provided as one of the exception to limiting fundamental freedom of speech and expression. However, after a long debate the Constituent Assembly finally decided not to include ‘sedition’ as one of the exceptions to limiting the fundamental freedom of speech and expression provided in Article 19 (a) of the Indian Constitution. Therefore, when the makers of the Constitution dropped sedition from the clause (2) of Article 19 they sought to signal their commitment to the three cherished freedoms namely of expression, assembly and association without which the new Republic, they felt, could not mark a break from the oppressive colonial raj and its brutal ways.
Jawaharlal Nehru’s views were totally against this provision when he said in 1951, ``take again Section 124 (A) of the Indian Penal Code. Now so far as I am concerned that particular Section is highly objectionable and obnoxious and it should have no place both for practical and historical reasons, in any body of laws that one might pass. The sooner we get rid of it the better.’’
Ironically many of the common law countries like England (2009) Australia (2011) and New Zealand (2007) have abolished the offence of sedition from their statue books.
In fact, in a democracy, it is the constitutional right of every citizen to expose the misdeeds of the government he/she disapproves of and create disaffection and disloyalty among the people and work for throwing it out of power through democratic means of course without resorting to violence. Hence, the law is incompatible with democracy in which anybody who is dissatisfied with the government has the right to create disaffection against it and seek its removal at the next election. Disloyalty to a government is different from disloyalty to the State.
Of late this provision is being used by the State to suppress dissenting voices. It is being used against trade unions, peasant movements, social activists, creative writings or artistic expressions. Human rights groups across the country have expressed their deep concern over this repressive tendency of the state.
Delegates from all over the country are coming together to share their experience of how this law has been used to silence critics and how the provision is being used to intimidate, harass and persecute people’s movements and common citizens all over the country. The convention is a beginning to spread awareness against the sedition law in various parts of the country and garner support for its abolition.
The campaign constituents are the PUCL, PUDR, APDR, CPDR, APCLC, Masum, Human Rights Alert, Manipur, NAPM, New Socialist Initiative, INSAF, Human Rights Law Network, People’s Democratic Front of India, Agriculture Workers Union, Karnataka, CHRI, PUCR, (Haryana) Bandi Mukti Committee (West Bengal)
Contact Phone numbers:
Pushkar Raj: 9810656100,
Kavita Srivastava: 09351562965