“More draconian forms of policing and punishment are no guarantee of a reduction in violent crime”.
Draconian laws are enacted in a way to strengthen the power of the state as an authoritarian regime. But subsequently, it becomes a threat to the fundamental purpose of the law. Indian democracy embraces a privileged position among other democracies. Laws that uphold a democratic legacy, function as the lynchpin of a country like India. Therefore, it is high time to decide the fate of draconian laws in Indian politics where these laws are being squandered. Detaining people without any valuable reason and questioning their democratic rights have become a day-to-day incident in India. The intelligentsia part of the society has been facing the threat of penalizing whenever they speak against the government policies for the common good. This article focuses on the most controversial and debated undemocratic laws such as the Sedition law and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA).
Law of Sedition is British-era legislation that aimed at suppressing the voice of the people who opposed the colonial government. Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 defines sedition as 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 towards, the Government established by law in [India], shall be punished with [imprisonment for life], to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine. Mahatma Gandhi who was once charged under this law observed Sedition law “The prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen”.
The Indian judiciary ideally decides the fate of cases under sedition law by considering the capability of ‘seditious expression’ to create or incite imminent violence. However, the contemporary scenario shows that the law is being misused to suppress the democratic rights of the people.
The infamous ‘toolkit case’ wherein a young environmental activist, Disha Ravi, was charged under the Sedition law for promoting a global online campaign supporting the farmers who were protesting against the new farm laws showed the worst face of Sedition law. The Citizenship Amendment Act-related protests and the subsequent arrests of a series of personalities including Umar Khalid, Natasha narwal, Sharjeel Imam, Safoora Zagar, Devengana Kalita, and Gulfisha Khatoon is yet another instance where the Government effectively used Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code to suppress the voice of people.
The fate of Siddique Kappan, a journalist, who raised his voice against the Hathras gangrape case and the forty-nine renowned personalities who were charged under sedition law for writing an open letter to the Prime Minister also showed the graveside of Sedition law or specifically how the Government squanders the law.
The Law Commission’s 2018 Report considers Sedition Law as a relic of colonial rule which does not hold any relevance in the modern Indian democracy. Recently, while hearing the pleas filed by the Editors Guild of India and Major General (Rtd.) S G Vombatkere the Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that the law of sedition needs to be put in abeyance. The special bench of the apex court comprising Chief Justice of India N V Ramana, Justice Surya Kant, and Justice Hima Kohli held that to keep all pending cases, appeals, and proceedings with respect to sedition in abeyance.
The bench opined that “We hope and expect Center and State Governments will refrain from registering any FIR, continuing investigation, or taking coercive steps under Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code when it is under reconsideration”. Sedition law creates a chilling effect on the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed as a fundamental right under the Constitution of India. In a democratic society, this cannot be entertained.
Another law that is being used as an instrument of oppression rather than for the regulation of society for the common good is the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 with the aim to prevent terrorism and terrorist organizations. The most controversial amendment to the said Act was made on 2019 wherein the parliament chose to name individuals as terrorists even though they do not have any connection with terrorist organizations. Retired Justice D Y Chandrachud has opined that “UAPA should not be misused for stifling dissent”.
Imposing the tag of ‘terrorism’ on people even without proper grounds and for mere oppression threatens the very existence of democratic principles in our society.
Laws that are arbitrary in nature and suppress the rights of citizens should not be sustained in a democratic system. Over time, the Indian Judiciary has made revolutionary interventions like the very recent holding for the abeyance of Sedition law to protect the rights of individuals. The contemporary Indian political system is highly corrupted and tries to marginalize the part of the population that opposes the government. However, India being one of the ideal nations that preserve democracy should not entertain draconian laws. Therefore, it is high time to decide the fate of the above-discussed draconian laws in India in favor of the fundamental rights of Indian citizens.
--  §124 A, Indian Penal Code, 1860  Statement in the Great Trial of 1922, Mahatma Gandhi, Part I-Famous Speeches  https://thewire.in/law/supreme-court-puts-sedition-law-in-abeyance-during-government-review  Id.  Gautam Doshi, In Seven Years, 10552 Indians Have Been Arrested Under UAPA-But Only 253 Convicted, 15 Nov 2021, https://scroll.in/article/1010530/in-seven-years-10552-indians-have-been-arrested-under-uapa-and-253-convicted
Gautam Doshi, In Seven Years, 10552 Indians Have Been Arrested Under UAPA-But Only 253 Convicted, 15 Nov 2021, https://scroll.in/article/1010530/in-seven-years-10552-indians-have-been-arrested-under-uapa-and-253-convicted
Statement in the Great Trial of 1922, Mahatma Gandhi, Part I-Famous Speeches
Indian Penal Code.
This article is written by Blaisy Babby P of CHRIST (Deemed to be University).