A draconian law has been put to rest, but when the courts have to do it, the system has failed

May 13, 2022 | 07:35 IST

A draconian law has been put to rest, but when the courts have to do it, the system has failed

The state must be a guardian and a protector, an enabler, the Sedition Act has disabled the spirit of the Constitution and sent fighters for the cause of India to jail

A draconian colonial-era law is about to be shelved, a law that the Supreme Court itself says has been more often misused than used wisely, to hurt and inflict great pain on Democratic and proud Indians who have used their pen, their voice and their expressions to correct the injustices of their land. As the Court’s judgment indicates, they were patriots who loved their land, their flag and their homeland, but chose to say that this “mother” did not obtain the freedoms, freedoms and democratic ideals that the founding fathers of the Indian Constitution had provided it. .

On May 11, the Supreme Court suspended that law, saying the law had been misused by governments to quash dissent. He also said the law was backdated and out of step with the times. The Supreme Court opened the door to freedom. Hundreds of people who were jailed under the law became eligible for bail.

The May 11 Supreme Court judgment is a stark reminder that the law, instead of being an enabler, has become a liability. Instead of protecting, it has become a tool of harassment. The law not only imprisons people, it also imprisons the very spirit of the Constitution and the land. He does not embolden the Indians, he betrays.

Ultimately, what is the state and what is governance? Governance is a privilege granted to a few elected by the true masters, the people. Those chosen are expected to act as parents, as guardians who are protectors but also friends and supporters.

Shouldn’t the system of governance therefore examine whether a law like the Sedition Act was used to really find and punish those who were enemies of the state, or were mostly defenders of the spirit of this Constitution and in the process may have criticized the system of governance then in force?

The act acts against those who, in the opinion of the state, “excite or attempt to excite ‘disaffection towards the government established by law in India’ and shall be punished with life imprisonment or three years (with or without a fine) and in some cases just a fine. What is important to note is what the word “disaffection” means in the context of the law. Here, disaffection includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.

Can we, as true Indians, lay our hands on our hearts and ever say that Father Stan Swamy, the gentle priest, has stirred up or attempted to stir up “disaffection towards” the government? A man who sacrificed his life for the Adivasis and lived in the jungle only to serve, can he be disloyal or have feelings of enmity with the country?

And since the list will be long, we cannot take all the names of those who simply worked for equality, freedom, the elimination of poverty and often assumed the system for not respecting these values.

Clearly, the reason this law came into effect in the last century is long gone. Times have changed, India has evolved, our country and its systems sit alongside the rest of the world, and our scientists and soldiers are equal if not superior to their international counterparts. Can this archaic and offbeat law ever hold?

The law’s origins date back to the 1800s. Thomas Babington Macaulay wrote the penal code in 1837, but it is interesting to note that the sedition law was not included in the original penal code. It was finally added in 1870 at the suggestion of James Stephen, a British legal hand in the Indian government due to increasing Wahhabi activity, and fearing that religious preachers would incite religious war in the subcontinent. Indian. The British Raj introduced this section under the title “Exciting disaffection”.

In 1958, the Allahabad High Court declared the Sedition Act void in the Ram Nandan case, followed by the Punjab High Court. But in this up and down battle, a Supreme Court judgment reintroduced sedition into the Constitution, specifying however that it only applies in the event of “incitement to violence”. Interestingly, it was Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who first made sedition noticeable during the 1973 CrPc.

All of this will be a thing of the past. The protection against further misuse of the sedition law is welcome and timely. But it also gives us a strong message that when the courts have to rule this way, the system has failed.