“Sedition law should be repealed as soon as possible” : Justice Deepak Gupta by Somesh Vaidya @LexCliq

The former Supreme Court justice was speaking at CJAR’s “Discussion On DEMOCRACY, DISSENT, AND DRACONIAN LAW- Should UAPA & Sedition Have A Place In Our Statute Books?” webinar. In light of CJI N. V. Ramana’s oral observations asking the Centre if it is still necessary to continue the Sedition Law, which was used by the British to suppress the Freedom Movement, Justice Gupta expressed hope that when the case challenging the constitutionality of the provision is finally heard by the Court, it will be struck down.

“The freedom to challenge the government is fundamental to democracy – I may not agree with you, but we can agree to disagree respectfully. In a democracy where every person has the freedom to challenge the government, sedition is anathema. It was imposed by a colonial authority with the aim of preventing natives from speaking out against the British Raj; they had said that anything that incites hate or contempt or incites disaffection or hostility against the State would be considered sedition. According to Mahatma Gandhi, love cannot be created by legislation, and that if I have no affection for the system or any individual, I should be free to say this as long as it does not encourage violence. However, until a few years before independence, the idea was that whatever you say is sedition if it is disaffection. The Privy Council reversed the decision that it is only sedition if there is violence “, the judge said.

Justice Gupta emphasised how, in the Kedar Nath case in 1962, the Supreme Court constitution bench provided a precise definition of sedition, stating that there must be an encouragement to violence and public disturbance. “Otherwise, your participation in the farmers’ demonstration, like Disha Ravi, would not amount to sedition!” he pointed out.

Disha Ravi, a 22-year-old climate activist, was detained by Delhi police in connection with the farmers’ protest ‘toolkit’ case.

The judge stated that the law established in Kedar Nath was recently reaffirmed by a bench led by Justice U. U. Lalit in Vinod Dua’s case, in which the Supreme Court quashed the FIR lodged against the senior journalist for sedition and other offences by a local BJP leader in Himachal Pradesh over his YouTube show with critical remarks against the Prime Minister and Union Government.

“The explanations may come and go, but the police will continue to abuse the law if they can still file 100s and 1000s of FIRs under Section 66A of the IT Act, notwithstanding the Supreme Court ruling in Shreya Singhal’s case that it violated free speech. In my opinion, the only way section 124A was upheld as constitutional (in Kedar Nath) was by tying it to incitement to violence. There are many laws dealing with the encouragement of violence in place today, notably the UAPA. Mrs. Indira Gandhi enacted legislation making it a punishable offence in 1974. It was unrecognisable before to independence. You’ve been making it harder and harsher. In my opinion, there is no justification for keeping the statute of sedition in place in our nation. This legislation should be repealed as quickly as feasible “, the judge said.

Written by Somesh Vaidya

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