Monday, 30th October 2017

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Old law against sedition

It's active application says a lot about the attitude of the Modi government towards its own people

  • Published 15.01.20, 1:21 AM
  • Updated 15.01.20, 1:21 AM
  • a min read
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Indian women with signs and banners during a rally to remember the gang raped victim from New Delhi in the year 2012 - on December 16, 2014 in Kolkata. Image used for representational purpose. Shutterstock

There is often doubt nowadays, perhaps unfair ones, that the government is not being quite forthright regarding facts. So a section of the media had asked why the 2017 report of the National Crime Records Bureau was so late in appearing, and whether the government wanted to keep it under wraps. Whatever those reasons, the NCRB report for 2018 is now out, just three months after the 2017 report, showing a 1.3 per cent of increase in crime over the last year’s. An average of 80 murders and 91 rapes daily is alarming: it is urgent to reduce the level of violence in the country. The system of recording crimes is also the one by which, in the case of multiple offences in the course of a single event, as in abduction, wrongful confinement, rape and murder, only the most serious offence, murder in this case, is counted.

Considered from the point of view of violence, however, most offences against the State, including rioting, have shown a decline except sedition: that has doubled from 35 in 2016 to 70 in 2018. Matched with the increase in numbers booked under special and local laws, such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Official Secrets Act, the data suggest a particular trend in governance and law enforcement. The law against sedition is a colonial legacy that should have long been put to sleep, since it is based on hostility between the ruler and the ruled. But a democratically elected government does not have the same relationship with the people who bring it to power of their own free will. It says a lot about the attitude of the Narendra Modi-led government towards its own people, and towards the free expression of dissenting or critical opinion, that the law against sedition has been pulled out from hibernation and actively applied since it came to power. Even carrying a placard asking that Kashmir be ‘freed’ can be considered sedition, as happened recently, although the person in question was subsequently released. The ministry of home affairs is presumably awaiting the advice of the law commission for amendments to the sedition law; clearly, there is no question of junking it. Without a change in the government’s attitude to dissent, the concept of sedition, however misapplied, is here to stay.