Amidst the conflicting opinions of the Supreme Court and the Law Commission, the need for maintaining Section 124A
Section 124A is a controversial law to say the least.
The erstwhile colonial government of British India was an out and out police state. A police state is concerned with the maintenance of law and order plus the securitization of external and internal borders.
To maintain absolute control over the territories it held, the British Parliament propounded a slew of laws.
Some of these are the Official Secrets Act,1923, the contentious Rowlatt Act and the law which is in the eye of the storm- Section 124A.
What is Section 124A
The law of sedition is a law that the British government propounded in 1859 and inserted it under the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
The objective of the act was to crackdown on anti-British and anti-state activities by Indian nationalists, masses whose activities would put the very life of the British government in peril.
It manifested itself in incarcerating opposition to British rule who would “excite dissatisfaction and attempts to undermine the functioning of the British government in India”.
The first victim of the sedition law was the fiery journalist, intellectual and moderate nationalist rashtraguru Surendranath Banerjea.
The Present Controversy
It pertains to the government of India as alleged by the opposition using section 124A disproportionate number of times to crackdown of dissent of any kind.
Interestingly, the government has recommended that it will re-examine and re-consider the colonial law.
The premise of the defense is that the law is of utmost importance to protect and preserve the safety and security of the country.
The Supreme Court in a recent judgment has ‘read down’ and not ‘declare’ unconstitutional the use of Section 124A.
The court has argued that the law of sedition is a colonial era relic which must not be used as it reflects a continuing colonized mindset and has put it on hold.
Ironically, the 22nd Law Commission has recommended the retention and strengthening of the contentious law with safeguards.
The commission went on to highlight how the law of sedition is an effective deterrent against anti-national and anti-social activities and will serve its time tested role of defending the country from internal threats.
Relevance of the Law
While the controversy of the efficacy and need of the law continues to rage on, it is important to highlight its continuing relevance.
India as a diverse multi-ethnic and multi-religious country which is rightly called the salad bowl of the 21st century faces a multitude of threats.
Chief among them being Islamist terrorism and radicalization, Khalistani propaganda and naxalism.
To deter such crimes, a strong law is necessary, section 124A is such a law.
While the cases filed under Section 124A has experienced a steep rise, according to National Crime Records Bureau data, the rise is a concomitant effect of new hybrid threats.
Therefore, it is necessary that the government re-examines the law before the law, only to make it more nuanced and tougher than the previous one.