Archaic provision under IPC that stifle & new laws like FCRA that threaten and control
A panel discussion organized by Amnesty International (India) at United Theological College in Bangalore on Saturday 13th August 2016, barely 48 hours before India celebrated entering its 70th year of Independence, turned chaotic as some “pro-freedom” Kashmiris, most of whom were youngsters and students, allegedly entered into heated arguments with a Kashmiri Pandit leader who was praising the Indian Army.
Amnesty International India had organized the event as part of a campaign to seek justice for "victims of human rights violations" in Jammu and Kashmir. The police were invited and present at the event.
Acting on a complaint filed by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the J.C. Nagar police on 15th August (India’s Independence Day) charged Amnesty International India under Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code, which defines sedition as "brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government of India".
Incidentally, United Theological College is under Ministry of Home Affair’s scanner for various FCRA violations and reportedly, the Home Ministry has now threatened to initiate a probe into the funding of Amnesty International to check for possible foreign sources funding its activities in India.
Amnesty India is not registered under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 2010. Amnesty India is largely run with crowd-sourced domestic funds. A large part of Amnesty’s activities involve working closely with various government departments, including the police.
Amnesty has questioned why organizing an event to defend constitutional values is now being branded 'anti-India' and criminalized? International Human Rights law protects the right to peacefully advocate political solutions that do not involve incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.
What is Sedition?
Under Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) ‘Sedition’ covers: “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, 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 (which includes disloyalty and all feelings of hate) towards the Government established by law in India”
History of this Law
The law of ‘sedition’ was originally drafted by Thomas Macaulay and was introduced in the IPC in the year 1870 when India was a British Colony and Queen Victoria the Empress of India.
Many Indian freedom fighters, including Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak, were charged with sedition during the freedom struggle under this very provision of law. Today, 70 years after India’s Independence we still charge Indians under a law that was enacted by foreign rulers to curb freedom of speech and expression. And then we glibly talk of “Make in India” and “India at 70”.
Says noted writer, Mridula Garg, “Any country carrying a law of sedition on its statute books has no right to claim that its citizens possess the right to freedom of expression. Even Britain, who once imposed it on India, has repealed it.”
When the first amendment to this law was introduced, which also included detailed limitations on free speech, the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was of the view that the offence of sedition was fundamentally unconstitutional. He had said “now, so far as I am concerned Section 124-A is highly objectionable and obnoxious and it should have no place both for practical and historical reasons. The sooner we get rid of it the better.”
Views of Legal Experts
Constitutional jurist and senior Supreme Court Advocate, Mr. Fali Nariman avers: “’Sedition’ in India is not unconstitutional, it remains an offence only if the words, spoken or written, are accompanied by disorder and violence and / or incitement to disorder and violence. Mere hooliganism, disorder and other forms of violence, though punishable under other provisions of the penal code and under other laws, are not punishable under Section 124A of the penal code. Likewise, mere expressions of hate, and even contempt for one’s government, are not sedition. When a person is dubbed “anti-Indian”, it is distasteful to India’s citizenry, but then to be “anti-Indian” is not a criminal offence, and it is definitely not ‘sedition’.”
According to Mr. Soli Sorabjee, Former Attorney General of India: “Sedition, according to the Supreme Court of India, are the acts which have a tendency and intention to disturb law and order or incite violence. After all, it is a section which awards life imprisonment and has very serious consequences. So the Supreme Court has construed it in that fashion and said it very clearly that even if you use words that vigorously criticize the government or comment on the actions of the government, that is not sedition. That is our law and that is how Section 124A was interpreted and upheld as constitutional by a Constitution Bench.