In India, policing is biased and justice is tortuous. Even partisan, say the victims at the receiving end of the thick police baton. Courts in India are creaking under the weight of unresolved cases and prisons in India are bursting with inmates awaiting trial. But, dissenters are routinely jailed speedily.
Justice in India is blind, literally. Cases where opposing politicians and critics are sent behind bars for seen-as-offensive tweets, all under the handy sedition law, has become commonplace in the ‘partly-free’ India. In fact, this sedition law goes back to colonial India when the criminal law provision was put in place to throttle the anti-colonial freedom movement. The colonisers are gone, the sedition law yet remains in India’s statute. Does that mean the Indian government considers itself the colonising Crown and the dissenting Indians the subjects of that intolerant Crown?
Granting bail to three students jailed for the imagined sedition against the State, an Indian judge observed that the unity of India is not made of bamboo reeds bending to passing winds. Sadly, the passing winds in Indian politics today are strong enough to uproot free speech and asphyxiate dissent.
The Indian government has responded positively to the apex court order by expressing its desire to have a relook at the sedition law. This is welcome. However, the Supreme Court in India should take on itself the responsibility to ensure such a relook ends in responsible parliamentary deliberations leading to the ultimate revocation of the much overused-in-abuse law.
No doubt the sedition law in section 124A of the Indian Penal Code is an enduring colonial baggage, a lingering liability, however one may look at it. It was thrust on Indians way back in 1898 by India’s colonial masters. This redundant legal appendage needs to be jettisoned along with its eminently misinterpretable terms, “disaffection,” and “hatred or contempt”, among others. However innocuous these terms might sound, they turn lethal in the hands of abusers, when they are slapped with their prescribed punishments.
Rise up to the Challenge
During the expected deliberations, Indian parliamentarians should do well to remember such a law was done away with by many modern States including Australia, Canada, Ghana, Ireland, Nigeria, Singapore, Uganda and the United Kingdom, among others. However, abrogation of the sedition law will happen in India only when the exercise is supported by sincere affidavits and serious application of the mind by the law-enforcers. In that sense, the entire legal enforcement ecosystem, including the ill-equipped Indian police and the magistrates, should rise up to the challenge.
In his order sending the sedition law to the backburner, the Chief Justice of India asked why continue with a law that was used to silence Gandhi and Tilak, the leading lights of India’s freedom movement. He went on to add “Everybody is a little scared when this provision is invoked.” High time India exorcised the fear element in the sedition law. What could be better than driving out the law itself, lock, stock and barrel?