India Today

WHO IS AN ENEMY OF THE STATE?

ON February 14, when Delhi Police arrested 21-year-old Bengaluru-based climate activist Disha Ravi and slapped charges of sedition on her, two distinct narratives emerged in the media. One group of people branded

Ravi, who has been accused of making edits on a controversial online ‘toolkit’ to allegedly defame India, an enemy of the state. The other called the Delhi Police action another instance of the blatant abuse of the sedition law by people in power to curb dissenting voices. And it’s not just Ravi. In January this year, three sedition cases were filed against Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor and six journalists, including India Today Group’s Rajdeep Sardesai, for tweeting “unverified” news about the farmers’ tractor rally in Delhi on January 26. Last year, Section 124A of the IPC (Indian Penal Code), which deals with sedition, was invoked against nearly two dozen people protesting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in January-February. Back in February 2016, Jawaharlal Nehru University students Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid were taken into custody on the same charge for allegedly raising seditious slogans on the occasion of Afzal Guru’s death anniversary at the university campus in Delhi.

Are the authorities misreading the scope of sedition? According to Article 14, an independent research initiative founded by a group of lawyers, academics and journalists, 10,938 individuals were booked in 816 sedition cases across India between 2010 and 2020. While the popular discourse tends to blame the Union government—it’s responsible only for Delhi Police and central agencies—the state governments are the ones which invoke this provision frequently as law and order is a state subject. Five states—Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Karnataka—accounted for nearly 65 per cent of the sedition cases.

Young or old, rich or poor, celebrity or commoner, student or professional, no one, it seems, is beyond the long arm of sedition charges. The 124A charge has been invoked for failure to stand up for the national anthem, for daring to post a critical tweet, holding a ‘Free Kashmir’ poster, even raising an ‘Azadi’ slogan. Some 1,310 individuals have been charged with sedition just for shouting slogans in the past decade. This, when the Supreme Court, in a landmark verdict in 1995 in Balwant Singh vs. State of Punjab acquitted all the accused of sedition for chanting pro-Khalistan slogans following Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The court held that the mere chanting of slogans with no attempt to incite violence cannot amount to sedition and investigating authorities must be extremely cautious before making arrests in such cases.

WHAT IS SEDITION?

Sedition under Section 124A of the IPC includes signs, visible representations or words, spoken or written, that can cause “hatred or contempt, or excite or attempt to excite disaffection” towards the government.

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