ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Understanding the Contradictions of India’s Democracy

Sedition Cross-examined

Sedition in Liberal Democracies by Anushka Singh, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2018; pp xii + 393, ₹ 995.

There is an oft-repeated pattern in progressive talks and petitions dealing with sedition in India. Legal experts, journalists, academics and civil society-based activists often argue that Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which defines sedition, is a political tool used primarily to silence dissent. They remind us that in colonial India sedition was used to arrest and detain several well-respected nationalists and find support in Jawaharlal Nehru and M K Gandhi’s statements that sedition has no place in a liberal democracy. They point out that the country which introduced the section on sedition to British India, that is, United Kingdom (UK), has itself since abolished it. On these and other similar grounds, academics and activists have long demanded the repeal of this section. These oft-repeated assertions are necessary, for repeating what we believe in, strengthen our convictions, reaffirm the worth and value of the demand, and mobilise public opinion in its favour.

However, these political positions also define the limits of what is said and written about sedition in India. To engage with sedition analytically, one needs to go beyond the assertions made in taking a political position on sedition. A couple of recent studies that focus on the jurisprudence on free speech and sedition in India have been undertaken by Siddharth Narrain (2011), Lawrence Liang (2016) and Gautam Bhatia (2016). Anushka Singh’s book, Sedition in Liberal Democracies, is an excellent addition to these engagements. Singh adopts legal, historical, and anthropological approaches to understand the evolution and practice of sedition as well as its normative relationship with a liberal democracy.

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Updated On : 9th Aug, 2019
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