‘Sedition Used to Suppress Dissent’: Advocates on Bidar School Row
Following national outrage over slapping of sedition charges on school authorities in north Karnataka’s Bidar, advocates in Bengaluru have condemned police’s repeated interrogation of minors and the arrest of a parent and teacher in the same case on 30 January.
An FIR was filed against the school authorities at the New Town Police Station based on the allegation that the play on 21 January ‘showed the PM in bad light’ and criticised the CAA.
Stating that it was generally held by some lawyers that the sedition law was gravely problematic, advocate Avani Choksi said that the law was open to misuse.
“It is used to suppress dissent, the language of the law itself is in terms of disaffection towards the state. How do you promote affection towards the state? This is something that should be in the law,” she said.
‘Incitement to Violence Essential for Sedition Charge’
Assistant professor of criminal law at National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Kunal Ambasta told The Quint, that the vagueness of the provision made its usage problematic.
Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code states that ‘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 shall be punished..’. Drafted during colonial times, the section was inserted into the IPC in 1870, 10 years after it came into being.
“It is a vague provision, it uses words like ‘disaffection’, ‘disloyalty’ etc. These are words that are amenable to multiple interpretations and what is important to note is that these words depend on the perception they create to the listener,” said Ambasta
“I might not intend to create disloyalty or disaffection, however one may perceive that I am and they go file an FIR. That is why you have the safeguard of requirement of incitement to violence,” he said adding that a play performed by children criticizing a government policy would not qualify as ‘incitement to violence’.
“A play which was performed in a school criticizing a law is not an incitement to violence, it is not promoting disaffection or disloyalty. A criticism of a person, criticism of government police, legitimate or illegitimate, is not a ground for calling it an offence of sedition,” he said.
‘Interrogation of Children Violating International Principles’
Niranjan Aradhya, NLSIU professor and activist specialising in child rights, said that the subsequent interrogation of children under the guise of investigation violated various international guidelines.
“The way they have interrogated children violates the basic principles of the Paris Principle and also violates the basic tenets of the Juvenile Justice act where children who are alleged to be in conflict with the law need to be handled in a very different way altogether,” he said.
He added that children had a right to express their opinion and views according to their age and maturity and guided by adults.
“We want to ask the police have they read the Constitution? Have they read the Juvenile Justice Act? Why are they treating children as accused adults? Have they read the Supreme Court orders on sedition and are they really applying all of these? And what kinds of orders are going to the Karnataka police from the DG’s office,” asked advocate and activist Vinay Sreenivasa.
No Action Against School Re-Enacting Babri Demolition
Arguing that freedom of expression constituted a fundamental right under the Constitution, Prof Niranjan Aaradhya said that that alone could not be treated as sedition.
“I see this as something that is targeting institutions and is basically creating a type of terror among people like see if you talk against us, you will be shown your way,” he said.
Last December, hundreds of students of Sri Rama Vidyakendra High School in Dakshina Kannada district’s Kalladka reenacted the events leading to demolition of Babri Majid with a running commentary in the background. The event was also attended by Puducherry Lt Governor Kiran Bedi and Union Minister DV Sadananda Gowda.
Avani pointed out that the sedition charge was being used with a communal angle.
"There was another play that re-enacted the Babri demolition conducted by hundreds of students. The SC has held that the demolition was an egregious violation of law, and there were still no arrests. But arresting a mother and teacher without possibility of bail till 11 February is something we object to,” she said.
Time to Repeal the Law?
From Kanhaiya Kumar, who was jailed for a ‘seditious’ speech in JNU in 2016 to student protesters who were booked for sedition recently for bearing ‘Free Kashmir’ posters at anti-CAA rallies, India’s ‘outdated’ legislation has witnessed considerable criticism.
It was in the landmark Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar case in 1962, that the Supreme Court differentiated between ‘disloyalty’ to the government and making comments about the government, without inciting violence, the lawyers said.
So, where does that leave the sedition law today?
It was a law which was proper when we were governed by a colonial government, we had no fundamental rights, there was no constitution. Whether a democratically elected government should continue to have this provision, retain and use it, where use can always lead to misuse, is a question that needs to be thought about.Kunal Ambasta, Asst Prof at NLSIU & advocate