It is, in fact, the right to speak, to express, that distinguishes the life of a free man, or a woman for that matter, from that of a slave. Freedom is not just breathing, it is breathing in a free air, an air where the mind is without fear and the head is held high… Where words come out from the depth of truth, and fearful authorities do not impediment this flow. But India, perhaps never got over their colonial masters. We continue where the British left. The sedition laws of the country speak the bitter truth:
“..whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India can be booked under sedition.”(Indian Penal Code, 1860, 124A)
This law is simple, really, if you read it in a glance. And then, you catch the word- ‘Government’. So, this law, basically, prevents people from inciting or promoting hatred or disaffection against the government. This law, basically, prevents rebellions. This law, basically, is a showpiece of our colonial hangover. This law, basically, gags. This law, basically, gives our Government the chance of stepping in the shoes of a colonial master. This law, basically, should be no law at all. Because this law, basically, prevents dissent.
I am not one for anti-sedition laws. For I believe and understand that the license of a democracy cannot and should not be abused. Every intellectual or individual with a cause would do well to remember these words of Adlai Stevenson: “Every man has a right to be heard; but no man has the right to strangle democracy with a single set of vocal chords.” But, there is a difference between speaking against the government and speaking against the country. There is a difference between desiring and working to overthrow the government and desiring and working to overthrow the country. The government is not the same as the country. Because, it is the national anthem of India and not the national anthem of the government of India; it is the national flag of India and not the national flag of government of India; and I am a citizen of India and not a citizen of the government of India.
I do not know whether what the Naxalists are doing is right or wrong, I do not know whether Binayak Sen supported them or not and if he did then he was right or not. But I can see the extent to which this provision can be abused. The law makers, perhaps, did not intend this abuse and perhaps, never saw it coming. But it is not long before we find Irom Sharmila Chanu charged with sedition because her fast has incited widespread criticism, hatred in fact, for the Government. Yes, it was wrong on Arundhati Roy’s part to go in a sensitive area like J & K and utter such words. But I fail to understand the difference in the magnitude of what Roy said in J & K to what Thackeray has been doing in Mumbai. It is sad, this law, does not, or to put it right, could not cover the acts of Thackeray, but pounced upon Roy. Such disparity, alas, is seditious in itself. It is time we came out of our colonial hangover and understood the difference the Government and the Country. Unfortunately, dissent is gagged. Here we are, young Indians, children of an Independent nation, free from its masters, projecting ourselves as the most competent generation India has ever had, failing however in life’s basic tasks, in the one essential work youth is supposed to do, failing to dissent. Here we are, successors of Bose, Gandhi, Bhagat Singh; here we are, the youth; here we are.
I quote Voltaire, “I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it.”
Image courtesy- yankodesign.com.
Student, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University,
[Submitted as an entry for the MightyLaws.in Blog Post Writing Competition, 2011]