Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

India at 75 is ready for a sedition-less future

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Freedom of speech and restrictions on it

Mains level : Paper 2- Issues with Section 124A of Indian Constitution

Context

Chief Justice of India N V Ramana has ignited a passionate debate during a preliminary hearing concerning whether “sedition” should be an offence at all, and how to prevent its misuse or abuse, were it to remain

Issues with the sedition under Section 124A

  • Against fundamental right: The meandering meanings of expressions such as “disaffection” towards the government, “hatred”, “contempt” etc. constitute an unreasonable restriction on the fundamental right to free expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a).
  • Neither the framers of the Constitution nor the authors of the amended Article 19(2) included “sedition” as a ground for “reasonable restriction” to freedom of speech and expression.
  • Colonial past: CJI Ramana in preliminary hearings has pointedly asked the Attorney General whether “sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code is still required after 75 years of independence from colonial rule.
  • Prone to misuse: The lack of definition of terms used in the section leaves vide the scope for interpretation and thus rampant misuse and abuse.

Way forward

  • Some law luminaries have found new stirrings of hope in the Supreme Court to strike it down.
  • Find means to prevent misuse and abuse: Alternative way,as the learned attorney general observed is to find constitutional ways and practical means to prevent the abuse and misuse of law.
  • Forbid rampant private complaints:  A most immediate step is to forbid rampant private complaints by citizens and authorise only very senior police officials to take appropriate action.

Conclusion

What Gandhiji said — the law may not be used to “manufacture affection” under pain of a penal sanction — was as true then as it remains now. It is high time to realise that the law of “sedition” must go, even when it may strictly not even exist!

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