Seldom does one come across a distinction so fine that even a word spoken against it may cause a furore. The Fathers of the constitution construed the Liberty of Speech and to express one’s opinion and views as one of the salient rights of the citizen of India. Albeit what has happened over the last 6 decades utilizing this liberty must have never even remotely crossed their minds. Today we stand to explore a possibility where a word spoken by the citizens of India may be construed as a salient Constitutional Liberty or may be the reason to be thrown behind bars on the charges of Sedition.
Section 124A IPC-Sedition
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], [* * *] shall be punished with [imprisonment for life], to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.
Explanation 1-The expression “disaffection” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.
Explanation 2-Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.
Explanation 3-Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.
ARTICLE 19 OF THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA
Article 19(1) (a) of Indian Constitution says that all citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression. Freedom of Speech and expression means the right to express one’s own convictions and opinions freely by words of mouth, writing, printing, pictures or any other mode. It thus includes the expression of one’s idea through any communicable medium or visible representation, such as gesture, signs, and the like. This expression connotes also publication and thus the freedom of press is included in this category. Free propagation of ideas is the necessary objective and this may be done on the platform or through the press. This propagation of ideas is secured by freedom of circulation. Liberty of circulation is essential to that freedom as the liberty of publication. Indeed, without circulation the publication would be of little value. The freedom of speech and expression includes liberty to propagate not one’s views only. It also includes the right to propagate or publish the views of other people; otherwise this freedom would not include the freedom of press.
Freedom of expression has four broad special purposes to serve:
1) It helps an individual to attain self-fulfillment.
2) It assists in the discovery of truth.
3) It strengthens the capacity of an individual in participating in decision-making.
4) It provides a mechanism by which it would be possible to establish a reasonable balance between stability and social change.
5) All members of society would be able to form their own beliefs and communicate them freely to others
Although Article 19 does not express provision for freedom of press but the fundamental right of the freedom of press implicit in the right the freedom of speech and expression. In the famous case Express Newspapers (Bombay) (P) Ltd. v. Union of India court observed the importance of press very aptly. Court held in this case that “In today’s free world freedom of press is the heart of social and political intercourse. The press has now assumed the role of the public educator making formal and non-formal education possible in a large scale particularly in the developing world, where television and other kinds of modern communication are not still available for all sections of society. The purpose of the press is to advance the public interest by publishing facts and opinions without which a democratic electorate [Government] cannot make responsible judgments. Newspapers being purveyors of news and views having a bearing on public administration very often carry material which would not be palatable to Governments and other authorities.”
In the light of the above Laws and Judgements a natural conflict of opinions comes to the fore. Some pertinent queries creep up
1. Who decides what I have to speak or express?
2. Is the Government in power sacrosanct or Divine that cannot be the target of any criticism?
3. Does Democracy inherently does not allow its citizens to express dissatisfaction against the ruling Government?
4. If I criticize the Government am I causing Disaffection against the Government?
5. Writing/Publishing against an act /whole of the system of Governance is our right under the Constitution of India or is it a punishable offence under the IPC?
6. If I dislike the ruling Government and express my desire to remove this Government by word of mouth, printed words am I expressing freely or is it sedition?
‘Activist Binayak Sen Granted Bail by Supreme Court’ was the Headlines a few days ago…………He was charged of Sedition but The Hon’ble Supreme Court overruled The High Court’s order………………………What was it?……..a moment of Jubilation or a moment of Introspection into the inherent and apparent contradiction in the Indian system of Law……………………..
Dr. Sidharth Aurora
Advocate, New Delhi
[Submitted as an entry for the MightyLaws.in Blog Post Writing Competition 2011.]