I remember a mother struggling to get her restless child to stand for the national anthem, in the cinema hall, where they decided to spend their afternoon to escape their monotonous routine. However, the mother feared being imprisoned along with her child if he refused to stand still, and she, in attempt to control him, lost her balance too. This fear was a direct result of Section 124a of the Indian Penal Code, introduced in the 1870s in colonial India.
I, too, felt handicapped, when I had to think twice to question the centre’s policy agenda. Who knows ? Maybe my intention to reform the system by the use of Article 19 of the Indian Constitution (Freedom of Expression), mistaken for sedition, could land me behind bars.
[What is imperative to know is that your freedom of speech is guaranteed to you, unless your actions are physical, and therefore violent]
What infuriates me is that I cannot praise another country on its victory in a sports event if it was played against the nation I was born to. I do not believe in criticising or belittling another country in case it does better than my own. If I did so with my peers in middle school, I would probably be sent to a psychologist.
To understand this, we should study the ideology behind ‘nationalism’ — A nation should govern itself, free from unwanted outside interference, and is linked to the concept of self-determination. Nationalism is further oriented towards developing and maintaining a national identity based on shared characteristics such as culture, language, race, religion, political goals or a belief in a common ancestry.
Why I say this is because the law of sedition is primarily used, today, to protect national integrity, whose perception is ambiguous. This ambiguity is solely responsible for the framing of charges against public-spirited citizens who make constructive use of their fundamental right of free speech.
So what is capable of hurting this ‘integrity’ ? Is a cartoon capable of hurting the integrity of a country of 1.3 billion ? Is cheering for a neighbour state synonymous with bringing disaffection towards the Indian government ? Praising a country on its achievements is capable of hurting nationalistic sentiments in India, amounting to sedition. If that is not jingoism, and absurdity, I don’t know what else is.
- Section 124a in The Indian Penal Code —
The law makes “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 towards the government” punishable by law, a fine and a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.
- Drafted by Thomas Macaulay, it was introduced in the 1870s, originally to deal with “increasing Wahabi activities between 1863 and 1870 that posed a challenge to the colonial government”.
- Mahatma Gandhi, who was charged with sedition, famously said the law was “designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen”.
The question that arises here is – Should we condone this antiquated law in 2016 ? And if we don’t, how do we bring about a change in it ?
Should the government be more sensitive to our fundamental rights ? Or should we, as always, rely on the judiciary for providing us with more clarity when such a case is presented before it ?