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Sep 10, 2012 at 12:25pm IST

Sedition: does it have any place in modern India?

New Delhi: Now that Kanpur-based cartoonist Aseem Trivedi has been charged with sedition for his cartoons that 'mocked' the country's political class, Parliament and the national emblem, one has to bear in mind that the word "sedition" does not actually figure anywhere in the Indian Constitution. It is an offence against the state as enumerated in the Indian Penal Code which is an 1860 Act ratified by the British to rule over Indians. Section 124 A of the IPC was drawn up in 1860, just three years after the British East India Company had weathered the storm of the Sepoy Mutiny.

So yes, the case against Aseem is registered under Section 124A of the IPC that is an 1860 Act which defines sedition as: "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."

A member of Repubican Party of India, Amit Katarnayea, had filed a complaint against Trivedi that the latter had put up banners mocking the Indian constitution during the Anna Hazare rally held last year at the Bandra Kurla Complex.

Sedition: does it have any place in modern India?

It is an offence against the state as enumerated in Section 124A of IPC, an 1860 Act ratified by the British.

Before Aseem, Dr Binayak Sen was also charged under the same section, a charge the court threw away after the Chhattisgarh government's attempts to put Sen away drew international rebuke. Many prominent Indians - from Tilak to Gandhi to Jogendra Chandra Bose - have faced sedition charges.

In India, where 'ignorance of law is no excuse,' the Constitution however guarantees freedom of speech and expression. Article 19(1)(A) of the Indian Constitution says that all citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression. The right to freedom of speech and expression incorporates protection for austerely censuring existing government structures, policies and administrative schemes, coupled with protection for suggesting and recommending the development of other system. Article 19 (2) of Indian Constitution says that, every citizen of the country holds the right to air his or her opinion through the printing or the electronic media, with certain restrictions imposed.

The recent cases of Dr Sen and Aseem reveal the archaic nature of sedition charges, something that is not quite in sync with a modern democracy which cherishes the ideals of freedom of expression and speech. It is one of those numerous IPC codes drawn up in British India to help the British Police to lord over native Indians, to crush every small protest against British rule. Police reforms and an overhaul of police laws is the only way to ensure that such regressive and irrelevant sections are relegated to the pages of legal history.

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