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An intolerant govt's draconian sedition law

Arindam ChaudhuriThe Indian government is becoming a joke by the day! Now The Economist has written about the irrelevance of Rahul Gandhi in an article asking, “What’s the point of Rahul Gandhi?” Before that, TIME magazine had dubbed our Prime Minister as an underachiever! And then, of course, Washington Post came down heavily on him.

And what was the government’s reaction? Well, like immature, intolerant fools, they lodged an official protest — exposing to the world that the article was indeed right and more; exposing to the world the government’s mindset, which looks eerily similar to that of Mamata, who shows complete disdain for democratic values and goes about arresting lecturers to farmers. And if that was not enough, then the Indian government gets a cartoonist arrested by using a law that should have been discarded ages back.

Yes, it is the same mindset which protests against a Washington Post article, that gets a professor arrested for sharing cartoons on Facebook, that makes an Aseem Trivedi a victim of an archaic law! The way this law has been used to suppress the voice of Binayak Sen earlier, and that of his likes, stinks of an intolerant and draconian government that is becoming irrelevant by the day. It is a matter of utter shame how even today, we cling on to our colonial past and their discriminatory laws.

The completely shameful arrest of Aseem Trivedi has brought to light again this prevailing archaic law whose legitimacy can only be comprehended after going into its historical milieu and the reason why it was drafted. Sedition dates back to the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, wherein the objective was to forcefully suppress the democratic aspirations of a particular section of society. The skeleton of this section was derived from the common law of seditious libel, meant to control press and publications during that time.

Raising its voice against such an inhuman law, the International Human Rights Watch requested the Indian Parliament to immediately repeal the sedition law. The biggest irony is how the High Courts have gone against the Supreme Court’s ruling that clearly demarcates sedition from other acts by stating that “prosecution under the sedition law requires incitement to violence”. Otherwise, invoking the sedition law would violate freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution under Article 19. And at no given point of time did Aseem Trivedi resort to violence or propagate any such activity. More so, such an archaic law even jeopardises the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by India in 1979, which ensures full freedom of expression and prohibits any kind of restrictions.

Look at examples from around the world related to this law. In September 2010, even the Ugandan judiciary ruled that their sedition law as being unconstitutional! In developed countries like the UK, the last prosecution for sedition occurred in 1972, by 1977, the common law offence of sedition was abolished.

Hence, the Supreme Court should immediately bring out a strict directive and ensure that no innocent individual gets victimised even for one day in the future due to such an archaic law. For that, it also needs to be assertive and come down heavily on this draconian law, and abolish it outright.

— Author is a management guru and Honorary Director of IIPM Think tank  

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