Suddenly the Indian state is under threat from a section of people, the so called cartoonists. Earlier they used to tickle our funny bones with loads of wit and humour. Now their cartoons are inciting people to rebel against the state. If that is not the case, how does the officials explain the arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi accusing him of sedition? The same old sedition laws of 1870, by which Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak were arrested for waging war against the British. Aseem Trivedi was arrested because he drew some offensive cartoons. Six decades after independence we are still suffering from colonial hangover of the British rule in India.
The section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code implies sedition as an offense that excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government. Now, what is disaffection? Disaffection means, you are not satisfied with the people in power and you are no longer willing to support them. With a population of one billion it is impossible for any government to satisfy the masses and there will be a voice of dissent at any given time from some quarters. The law makes sense only if there is violence. It is undemocratic to nab someone in the pretext of sedition just for criticizing the government.
Many people over the years have been arrested on bogus charges of sedition. The most controversial sedition case in recent times is that of Dr Binayak Sen. He was accused of being a courier for the Maoist and sentenced to life imprisonment by the court. His suffering stemmed from the fact that he was a vocal critique of the state government and the outfit Salwa Judum. Arundhadhi Roy’s secessionist views on Kashmir was enough to get her slapped with charges of sedition. In Uttar Pradesh, journalist Seema Azad and her husband Vishwa Vijay were charged with sedition on the basis of some innocuous documents found in their possession. When Gandhiji was arrested for sedition, he was given a six year prison sentence. Awarding life imprisonments to Dr Binayak Sen and Seema Azad perhaps we are going a step further than the British to punish our own people.
Laws are made to make life easier. But the sedition law exists only to incarcerate people for raising their voice. The administration wants to avoid criticism because they are scared of mass movements that target them. They can’t afford another Anna Hazare like episode to be played out on the streets. In Koodankulam, thousands of protestors were charged with sedition in order to suppress their voice so that the authorities can go ahead with the nuclear plant.
Every law in this country is misused. Then what is so unique about sedition? In the case of sedition, the law itself is undemocratic. Democracy gives space for criticism. This law has a place only in authoritarian rule where freedom of speech and expression is curbed.
Jawaharlal Nehru was in favour of scrapping this highly objectionable and obnoxious law in 1951. But he refrained from taking any concrete action. 60 years have passed since then. Over the years not a single government took any initiative to get the law repealed. Even today the majority opinion is to abolish and do away with this undemocratic law. With the wheels of legislative reforms moving at a snail’s pace if the process starts now then we can achieve the target in time for our next generation to live easy.
Angrez chale gaye, lekin angrezi kanoon chod gaye (The English left, but left the English laws behind). When we boast of our technological advancements and economic growth taking our country forward, these archaic laws are pulling us back. Today the pen is mightier than the sword to put you behind bars.