Is the Sedition Act relevant today?

Wrote this for the Imprint (the college monthly) as part of a competition of sorts. Please refrain from being judgemental! :P I prepared this at the last minute and it's not really my best!

The last month saw the front pages of national newspapers splashed with the news of a cartoonist who went to jail for drawing pictures of an Asoka emblem with the heads of bloodthirsty wolves and of politicians in India defiling the Indian constitution. His name is Aseem Trivedi, now miraculously a symbol and inspiration for the fight against curbing of freedom of expression and speech due to his alleged imprisonment for ‘sedition’. I’m guessing that at least 50% of the newspaper-readers must have said, “What is sedition?” a few of them would have looked it up in the dictionary, a fewer still would have cared to search for the provisions of the barbaric Sedition Act.

So what is it anyway? Sedition is basically any form of expression, either through print media, the internet, or through speech, that seeks to incite a rebellion in the minds of the public against the sovereignty of the nation. So that would mean talking ill of the government as a whole, or making a mockery of any national symbols such as the national flag, the national anthem, the national bird, the national animal, or any other symbols that represent the essence of the country would be considered a crime under the Sedition Act. Caricatures of politicians aren’t considered seditious though!
A quick Google search yields amazing facts. The British colonialists in India had implemented the Sedition Act in the year 1858, after the failed rebellion we might have learned of as the ‘Revolt of 1857’, to suppress any further attempts at overthrowing or undermining the British government in India. It is known that they threatened freedom fighters with exile to the Andaman and Nicobar prisons on charges of sedition. The Act empowered the British to jail any individual, or group of individuals, who ‘posed a threat’ to the stability of their rule. Under this Act, many freedom fighters like Gandhi, Tilak, Bhagat Singh, to name but a few were imprisoned.

The very legendary ‘makers’ of our constitution failed to scrap this Act while drafting it in the belief that they were protecting the country from unnecessary dissidents and havoc-mongers. Their aim was to protect the country from within against anti-social elements and factions looking to disrupt the peace of the nation. However, the governments that take up rule in India use this atrociously un-democratic Act to their own advantage justifying the usage of such an adjective. It is used against political rivals, enemies within the coalition and members of the general public, who seem to pose a direct or indirect threat to them, to curb their freedom of expression and speech.

This often misused Act has been scrapped in many countries that are open to criticism. The United States of America, The United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada are a few examples. Our fanatic country fails to recognize Aseem Trivedi’s cartoons as those mocking politicians rather than those against the nation or the government as a whole. His cartoon of the Asoka emblem heads being replaced by bloodthirsty wolves is symbolic of how the country is being fed to the dogs because of corruption and his cartoon of politicians defiling the constitution draws our attention to the mess politicians have made, of this country. Shallow law-makers and mobsters go on a rampage, burning effigies and torching public property against the said “injustice”. Oh the irony!

Such problems are faced, though on a comparatively smaller scale, even in workplaces and classrooms. People in a position of power or authority are often reluctant to be criticized and twist the inferential powers of the onlookers against the critic(s).

There was this incident in my school when I told my highly incapable Math teacher of a mistake he had made on the blackboard. I have no idea where I came across as being audacious, but, that warranted a visit to the Principal and a stern warning against indulging in activities that could disrupt the ambience of the classroom! This is quite analogous to how the British implemented the Act in India.

The Sedition Act in India necessarily needs to be either revised to suit the needs of the nation today, or be scrapped completely because it has the potential to convert the largest democracy in the world into a totalitarian regime in all but name. We will be no better than our neighbours to the North if that comes to pass.

Also, it is important and heartening to notice that there will probably be very little opposition for a political party/coalition deciding to scrap this Act off the constitution. The UPA-II could benefit by doing so and adding another Roman numeral to that name. The IAC may not always make sense in their random allegations against people in the limelight, but their fight for freedom of expression is indeed just and deserves support.

You never know when some power-hungry politician could deem your article or your blog posts seditious and put you in jail for a week. I don’t know if I’ll be able to refuse bail in such a situation! Sedition is just a word people talk about in hushed tones over coffee or cards to show their dissent to autocrats who prevent them from voicing their dissent. To make our voices heard, we need free speech and an uncensored media both of which can be fully equipped only when the Sedition Act of 1858 and all its barbaric provisions are scrapped.


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