The move by the Dhanbad police to formally seek an explanation from the sub-inspector who filed a sedition case against 3,000 unnamed persons for participating in a protest rally is a welcome development.
It marks the recognition in the administration of the impropriety of levying the charge of sedition for the mere expression of views contrary to that of the government. Jharkhand leads the league table for slapping sedition charges on dissidents. Dissent, criticism, difference of opinions and views are central to democracy. To classify every divergence of views as an act against the state or sedition accords with neither the law nor democracy.
The offence of sedition can be traced to the Statute of Westminster issued in 1275 that was issued at a time when the king was considered to have the divine right to rule. Questioning the king was therefore a crime. But such a notion is out of place in a democracy. Freedom of speech and expression are key, subject only to reasonable restrictions on grounds of security of state and law and order.
At the same time, the demands of national security cannot be misused for quashing dissent. It is this balance that the Supreme Court sought to maintain in its Kedarnath judgment — for an act to be considered sedition, it must be accompanied by incitement to proximate violence.
The Supreme Court delved into Constituent Assembly debates, leading to omission of ‘sedition’ from the Constitution to arrive at its judgment. Dissent and criticism are important elements of a robust democracy Sedition is a charge that is subjected more to abuse than to use. The Law Commission has recommended dropping sedition from Penal Code, as Britain has. Till then, the Supreme Court could suo motu move against those who misuse the charge of sedition.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.
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