Hardik Patel and the Irrelevance of Sedition in Post-1947 India
A video, the authenticity of which is yet to be accorded judicial validation, shows Hardik Patel sitting down with a person, and stating that a few policemen can be killed. This video prompted the Surat police to charge Hardik Patel with sedition.
Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, read along with the interpretations placed on it by the Supreme Court, criminalises any contempt or hatred expressed towards the state coupled with an incitement to violence or public disorder. It is clear as day that there is no place for such a law in India today.
The law on sedition is used today mainly to harass political opponents and activists. It is a serious offence but even the state that prosecutes the offence does not take it seriously. Cases are filed against people for merely expressing their dissent towards state policies and just as quickly, cases are withdrawn after a public outcry.
Doing Away With Section 124A
- Cases under
section 124A are being filed against people for merely expressing their dissent
towards state policies.
- Section 115 of
the Indian Penal Code provides for punishment for abetment, what then is the
need of a case for sedition.
leaders can be booked for acts of violence under The Prevention of Damage to
Public Property Act, 1984, enacted more than thirty years ago.
Why this Fetish for Sedition Charge?
The case of Hardik Patel is yet another instance where the use of sedition law is superflous. Hardik Patel, an unabashed admirer of Bal Thackeray, is not a politician who shies away from violent language in articulating his political goals. At least in his case, one might argue that the charges make sense.
He not only expressed discontent with the government of Gujarat but, if the facts presented in the video are proven, asked people to adopt violent means in dissenting against the state. In the popular imagination, this is exactly what the sedition law must be used for.
However, this argument is in fact not a good one, and worse, it is an excuse to keep in place a regressive law that is used mainly to bully political opponents. Hardik is accused by the prosecution of instigating others to kill policemen. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) has a provision that deals precisely with such extortions.
Under section 115 of the Indian Penal Code, Hardik’s actions, as the charge sheet filed against Hardik itself reveals, can amount to abetment, if the accusations are proven. Section 115 provides that a person who instigates another person to commit a crime such as murder can be prosecuted as well. It is another matter if the Hardik video is sufficient to make out a case of abetment or sedition, a matter that will be decided in a court of law.
Need to Reform Archaic Laws
The IPC, which has retained its basic structure for more than a century and a half, is ripe for reform. Many of its provisions, such as on sedition, are now anachronisms in democracies that rely on debate and dissent to achieve a truly participatory politics.
Laws used to muzzle Tilak and Gandhi have no place in Indian society today. In fact, Indian criminal law is a curious mixture of general provisions that are liable to misuse and more specific provisions that target discreet public wrongs.
Indian Criminal Law offers Other Options
In the case of violent agitations such as the ones we witnessed in Gujarat and Haryana, even if sedition were not on the books, Indian criminal law has adequate resources to address the violence. For example, political leaders and their followers involved in vandalism can be brought to book under a legislation that was enacted more than thirty years ago: The Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984.
This legislation has specific provisions dealing with damage to property used for the supply of water, property belonging to oil installations and property connected with transportation. The Government is considering strengthening the provisions of this enactment and making the office bearers of organisations that call for agitations responsible for the ensuing vandalism.
The government does not need to rely on sedition law in order to respond appropriately to violence in the country. Once the government is firm in its conviction that it is not dissent alone that needs to be criminalised but the violence that accompanies dissent, there is no need to persist with the sedition law.
(The writer is Associate Professor of Law at Azim Premji University, Bangalore. He can be reached at @nsnigam)
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