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Sedition and Its Political Functions

The Law of the Executive

Anushka Singh (anushka@aud.ac.in) is an assistant professor at the School of Law, Governance, and Citizenship at Ambedkar University, Delhi.

With the admission that the law is being glaringly misused, the Supreme Court has suspended the use of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code until the law is re-examined. The order is significant as it addresses the gap between the design of a law and its working by factoring in the instances of misuse as a ground for constitutional review. This article argues that sedition has been designed to serve as the “law of the executive” on two accounts. First, the choice of invoking the law is allowed to be governed by political considerations in cases dissociated with the legal understanding of the offence. Second, the possibility of a judicial trial is made contingent upon the will of the executive by instituting the requirement of sanction for prosecution.

The judicial order holding the 150-year-old law of sedition in abeyance resolves the legal aporia presented by the pervasive misuse of the law and the inadequacy of misuse forming a sufficient case to mount a constitutional challenge to the law. Until now, the misuse of law was considered as a pathology of its implementation and not a strong legal ground to challenge the letter of the law. The Supreme Court’s order calling for the suspension of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) until it is re-examined by the union government addresses the gap between the design of a law and its working by factoring in the instances of misuse as a ground for constitutional review.

While the Court’s order is significant in taking into account the lived realities of law, representing a limited victory of legal realism over legal formalism, the overemphasis of the “misuse” argument can deflect from the deeper concern around laws like sedition created to prohibit dissidence against political authorities. This article argues that the idea of the “misuse” is a misnomer that draws a veil over the political character of law. Using the analytical framework of “the law of the executive,” this article argues that the use by the executive towards extralegal ends is built into the design of the law. This argument will be substantiated through examples that show the extralegal life of law in specific sociopolitical contexts of its contemporary use, where its invocation defies its legal mandate.

This article discusses three aspects of the contemporary use of sedition as the law of the executive: (i) private complaints of sedition, (ii) the role of the police, and (iii) the provision for the grant of sanction for prosecution by the government. The first aspect explicates the creation of alternate meanings of sedition in the domain of the social. The second aspect explains the legal accommodation of the extralegal meanings of sedition and the political interventions that render the legal understanding of sedition meaningless. The third aspect demonstrates the political functions served by the law that obliterate the possibility of legal-judicial checks to be exercised on the use of the law. The three aspects discussed here point to the inadequacy of the framework of misuse of law. Rather than being three separate aspects of the use of sedition law, the article argues that all the three aspects are present together as a “seriality” of events, initiated with the reporting of a “crime” necessitating the invocation of Section 124A and the eliciting of the governmental approval for a trial to begin.

Recognising sedition as the “law of the executive” is particularly relevant at a time when the law is being re-examined by the executive under a judicial direction. The union government had appealed to the Court requesting for the abandonment of the judicial review of sedition in favour of an examination by the executive. The affidavit on the basis of which the re-examination has been granted stresses the need for such laws to protect “legitimate state interest,” but has raised caution against its misuse.1 The pretexting of the review process on the grounds of abuse, alongside the reiteration of the indispensability of such laws, takes the debate back into the domain of law implementation, retrenching the “misuse framework” to the detriment of a comprehensive review of the letter of law.

In India, sedition was first defined under Section 124A of the IPC in 1870 which criminalises acts of spreading hatred, contempt, and disaffection against the government. Disaffection has been qualified in terms of possession of feelings such as enmity and disloyalty towards the government. After independence, the Supreme Court in Kedar Nath Singh (1962) read down the scope of the law by interpreting disaffection as the tendency to incite violence or disorder in society. Any expression against the government, however strongly worded, short of any tendency to result in disorder was not to be penalised as seditious. In the everyday use of the law, however, the meaning of sedition defined by the Court appears to have dissolved into nothingness as the cases registered under Section 124A either deflect from the legal understanding of the offence or are registered on considerations extraneous to what the offence means. Along these lines, in its routine invocation, sedition emerges as the law of the executive, that is, a law that enforces the will of the executive.

Private Complainants

A comprehensive study on the profile of the complainant in the cases of sedition is yet to be done; however, the news reporting on contemporary cases is telling of the law’s routine invocation. There are broadly three patterns of the involvement of the private citizens in the cases of sedition. First, first information reports (FIRs) are registered by the police at the behest of private groups and sociopolitical organisations.2 Second, a private citizen is officially the complainant in the FIR registered under Section 124A.3 Third, private citizens move courts to direct the police to register cases under Section 124A.4

In many of these cases, the identity of the complainant is linked to the regime in power, an argument that would be discussed later in the context of the role of the police. The role of the private citizens in all the three patterns is not limited to an act of reporting an offence or filing a complaint but that of constructing one or demanding that it must be seen as seditious. These popular interpretations of sedition, on the one hand, draw upon past references where the law has been invoked in similar cases, and on the other, they strengthen the possibility for future interpretations of the kind to draw legitimacy from. One such illustration being discussed in this article is the use of the law of sedition against the alleged “anti-national” expressions, which marks a departure in the meaning of sedition from “anti-government” expressions to “anti-national” acts defined within the contours of state-centric nationalism.

The state-centric discourse of nationalism makes the epithets of the state the epithets of the nation; as Ashis Nandy (2006: 3503) writes, “a degree of statism is an unavoidable adjunct to nationalism.” Sudipta Kaviraj has extended Ernest Gellner’s conception of nationalism in which the state creates the nation as opposed to the dominant idea of nations preceding the creation of states to explain the form of nationalism in India post independence (Kaviraj 2010). In this state-created discourse of nationalism, the state retained the right to reward the “national” and punish the “anti-national” and by default the right to assign meanings to these terms also remained the prerogative of the state. While the conflation bet­ween the state and the nation, which otherwise exist as two distinct categories, was made possible within this discourse, it still did not provide for the identification of the nation in the government.

Government was identified as the visible symbol of the state, especially by the judiciary while deciding on the ambit of criminality of “offences against state” but nation as a category could only be made a distant reference through the invocation of phrases such as “national security.” In Kedar Nath Singh, the Supreme Court read down the law of sedition, establishing it as an offence against the security of the state through its tendency to incite violence and disorder. It further noted that “the very existence of the State will be in jeopardy if the Government established by law is subverted,” thus bringing about a conflation between the categories of the government and the state and defending the restrictions on anti-government expressions in the name of the security of the state or what is popularly construed as national security. However flawed the judicial reasoning may have appeared in contexts of electoral democracies, where instability of political regimes is unconnected with the continuation of the state as an institution, it still did not allow for the popularly constructed anti-national activities to be denoted as anti-government or anti-state ones. This has been achieved by the contemporary use of the sedition law in its persecution of the popularly constructed acts of deshdroh. The role of private citizens is significant to understand sedition in the social milieu of the law, translated as deshdroh, while the judicial understanding of the law remains unconversant with this new language. The demand by private actors to register the cases of sedition against what are popularly labelled as “anti-national” acts, such as cheering for the Pakistani cricket team or not standing up for the National Anthem, create extralegal meanings of the law. The question emerges about the legality of these popular interpretations which demand for an anti-government offence to be invoked in cases that either have no reference to the government or the reference has no tendency to disorder or violence. This question finds explanation in the second aspect, that is, in the role of the police. The popular interpretations of sedition make it to the legal-institutional space through a selective appropriation of meanings by the local executive while registering cases under Section 124A.

Role of the Police

The demand made by private citizens lays the foundation for the framework of the “law of the executive” to emerge in the implementation of the law by the police. While the private actors perform the function of reporting a crime, the invocation of specific sections in registering an FIR is not their prerogative. The local executive—policepersons—entrust­ed with the task of implementing the law decides on the sections to be invoked. The reporting of a crime by sociopolitical actors who may be individuals or representatives of certain politically affiliated groups, happens in the social realm but the registration of a case under Section 124A of the IPC by state officials, introduces the legal into the social. When demands by private citizens to use the law in specific cases based on popular interpretations that exceed the ambit of the law are registered as sedition FIRs by the police, these popular interpretations assume a legal life. The consonance between the ground interpretations of sedition and the police version denotes the conditioning of the legal processes by the social context on the one hand, while on the other, these FIRs also become past references as discussed earlier on the basis of which more such cases proliferate. These FIRs may remain unsustainable in the court of law and the accused may be acquitted of charges by the judiciary. However, the legal life that the popular interpretations acquire in the interim, through registration of cases and filing of charge sheet by the police subsequently, results in years of legal rigmarole and undertrial incarcerations in cases where the bail is denied. The second aspect of the law of the executive focusing on the role of the police thus highlights how popular interpretations of sedition are allowed a legal life regardless of their judicial sustainability. Given that the identity of the complainant who influences the police to register the case is linked to the political establishment, a complete dissociation of the political authorities from these popular interpretations cannot be claimed, though the involvement of the state executive cannot be established either.

Besides acting on the basis of private complaints which broadly explain the use of sedition law against “anti-national” activities, the police also uses the law in a more targeted fashion. The mass cases of sedition against the anti-nuclear protesters in Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu between 2011 and 2016; against members of pro-reservation agitation like the Jats in Haryana, the Patidars in Gujarat in 2015 and 2016; against pathalgadi protesters in Khunti, Jharkhand in 2019; against anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protesters in Delhi, Assam and other parts of India in 2020 and 2021, are examples that reveal the political function performed by the police through the use of the law. In addition to these, certain civil rights activists, journalists and human rights defenders have also been at the receiving end of the political application of this law. Recent examples can be found in sedition charges against journalists covering the Hathras gang-rape incident in Uttar Pradesh in 2020 or against activist Akhil Gogoi in Assam in 2019 where reading The Communist Manifesto, use of words like “comrade,” “lal salaam” were among the reasons used by the National Investigation Agency in the charge sheet.5 The argument that the cases are essentially political is amplified by the fact that many of these cases have resulted in the withdrawal of charges either through political negotiations or with regime change. With the change of government in Jharkhand, the chief minister, on the first day of coming to power, announ­ced the withdrawal of sedition charges against Pathalgadi protesters (Hindustan Times 2019). Before the state assembly elections in 2017, the Gujarat government announ­ced the withdrawal of maximum cases, including sedition charges registered against Patidar protesters (Times of India 2017). In Haryana, with the Congress taking over power from the Indian National Lok Dal in 2005, sedition cases against Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Ghasi Ram Nain and his supporters were withdrawn and the protesters were released. The withdrawal of the cases was promised by the Congress as part of its election campaign (Singh 2018: 241–42). These withdrawals suggest that what is seditious can vary from regime to regime. The variation prods the question of what remains of the meaning of sedition and the alleged criminality of those acts, once the charge is withdrawn.

This article does not take a blanket position that the institution of the police is devoid of any autonomy. Political interference in the working of the police, however, has been observed as one of the foremost concerns by the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh (2006) demanding immediate reform measures for its independent functioning. This article makes a limited argument about the role of the police in political offences such as sedition. Chapter VI of the IPC titled “Offences Against State” defines a range of offences, among which sedition and waging war against the government are the two most frequently used charges. These offences, in sociological terms are called political offences as they have the existing political authority as their target. The peculiarity of political offences distinct from other criminal offences lies in the fact that the target of the offence is the state executive, which is also entrusted with the task of law implementation. Hence, the target has the power to decide about whether to take recourse to the law or not. By implication, when the state executive wants to use the law, it can claim to have been targeted by specific individuals/groups/organisations and press charges. The law in these cases serves a political end.

In both kinds of cases, first in which the police acts on the basis of private complaints and, second, in which political authorities may directly be involved in directing the use of law, the registration of a sedition case by the police has very little to do with the definition of the off­ence. In the former case, the meaning of sedition is altered by popular interpretations, while in case of the latter, it remains contingent on political negotiations. The fact that political negotiations can result in the withdrawal of cases without judicial trial, even in instances where the alleged seditious act approximates to the definition of the offence laid down by the Supreme Court renders sedition meaningless. The executive exercises the power to both assign extralegal connotations to the term and foreclose the possibility of a legal trial to adjudicate on the question of whether an alleged seditious act fell within the ambit of criminality of Section 124A or not. The fact that the law of sedition serves the executive interest is further buttressed by the provision for the grant of sanction for prosecution in sedition cases, which connects to the third aspect of the framework of the law of the executive.

Intended Use of the Law

A case of sedition can be tried in a court only with the authorisation from the executive. Section 196 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) lays down the requirement for prior approval from the government before any court can take cognisance of a case registered under Section 124A of the IPC. In other words, a trial can begin in a sedition case only if the political executive—the government —as the sanctioning authority grants permission for the prosecution. The rationale behind instituting the clause can be traced back to sedition trials in colonial times, which throw light on how political offences, particularly sedition, were imagined as in-house matters of the state executive. In 1897, during Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s sedition trial in Queen Empress v Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Keshav Mahadev Bal, the judge noted that the “the object of Section 196 [was] to prevent unauthorized persons from intruding in matters of State [and] to ensure that such prosecution shall only be instituted under the authority of the Government.” The argument was reiterated in subsequent judgments like Apurba Krishna (1907), Subramania Siva (1908) not only in the colonial period but also resonated in post-independence jurisprudence on sanction.

The judiciary has emphasised that the mandate of Section 196 of the CrPC bars judicial intervention in cases of “offences against state,” unless with the approval of the executive. In doing so, the courts have not stressed on the procedural neces­sity established by the CrPC alone. They have reaffirmed the rationality behind the provision by alluding to the fact that “offences against state” are inherently political and the decision about what to do with them must also be political. For instance, in a sedition case of 1955, the Gauhati High Court in Sagolsem Indramani Singh (1955) ruled that the requirement for sanction was to ensure that prosecution takes place only when the government wants it, which in turn also saves the time of the court from “needless prosecution without conviction.”

In 2010, the Karnataka High Court in the State of Karnataka v K Rajashekara noted that it may be possible that “the very filing of a prosecution after matters have cooled down may generate fresh heat,” making it abundantly clear that the decision for prosecution must be taken politically by the sanctioning authority. There are numerous instances of judicial proceedings being quashed in the absence of the grant of sanction; in Mohd Waris @ Raza v State (2019), the Allahabad High Court even set aside the conviction order of the trial court on the grounds that a sanction had not been obtained despite the observation that there are enough evidences in the case to prove the guilt of the accused. In some cases, the courts have stressed upon the need for “due deliberation” on part of the sanctioning authority in granting sanction; however, the judiciary has not engaged with the procedure to be followed by the executive in granting such sanction. Nor have the courts evolved any mechanism to ascertain whether deliberation actually took place, allowing for subjective considerations to govern the decision.

The legal requirement of a sanction for prosecution establishes a political prerogative—the exclusive right of the executive—to decide on matters of prosecution in cases that are political in nature. The exceptionality of political offences such as sedition in which the target of the offence decides on the recourse to the law discussed in the previous section is further entrenched through the exclusive right of the target to also decide on the judicial course in the matter. The provision modifies the evaluative framework employed for adjudicating an offence. The prosecution of a person for the offence of sedition is no longer determined by the nature of the act committed by the person but becomes a matter of an executive choice.

An alternate argument is advanced regarding the grant of sanction, which claims that the clause was designed to ensure that cases of police misuse are weeded out at the level of the executive before matters reach the court. The practice of granting sanction, however, shows that the sanctioning authority has failed to ensure that. For instance, the Delhi government in granting sanction for prosecution in the sedition cases filed against the Jawaharlal Nehru University students in 2016 and later in the case of north-east Delhi riots in 2020 noted that approval was a procedural matter and the government should not interfere in the work of the judiciary (Hindustan Times 2020). In this apparent act of ceding the power to decide on the fate of prosecution in the name of the restitution of the judicial function, the state executive abated the possibility of a dissonance. The dissonance could have been created between the act of the police under the control of the centre and the will of the sanctioning authority represented by a different political party in power, which may have impacted the pattern of the use of sedition and set a crucial federal precedent.

Revisiting the Law of the Executive

The only comprehensive data with regard to sedition cases can be found in the annual crime statistics published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), which suffers from a methodological limitation. The NCRB follows the “Principal Off­ence Rule” where each case is counted only under one category. In the case of an FIR under multiple sections, the case would be counted under the offence entailing maximum punishment. Owing to the trend of using sedition with Section 121 IPC and various sections of the Unlawful
Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) which prescribe harsher penalties (Singh 2018), FIRs under Section 124A of the IPC remain undercounted. Despite gross underestimation of figures, in the last five years between 2016 and 2020, 322 FIRs have been registered under Section 124A. In at least 144 cases, the police filed a charge sheet during 2016–20 which were sent for trial in addition to cases pending trial from previous years. In at least 58 cases, the trial was completed of which 51 resulted in acquittal with cases of conviction remaining at seven. The final analysis relies on an abysmally poor rate of conviction pronouncing sedition to be misapplied in the remaining cases and the law being misused through its misapplication, whether deliberate or inadvertent.

This analysis, however, glosses over the trajectory of the use of the law where the numerical figures 322 and seven are inversely proportionate to each other. Despite the decreasing rate of conviction, the number of complaints of sedition being registered, the charge-sheeting rate and the number of cases being sent for trial every year with the approval of the executive is increasing. This relationship of inverse proportionality is explained by the framework of the “law of the executive.” Political use is inbuilt into the design of the law, which buttresses the power of the state to persecute without conviction.

The process of getting the apex court to review the law was set in motion in April 2021 with Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha, followed by a batch of other petitions. The executive has now taken over the review process, after repeated attempts to defend the existence of the law on the statute and forestalling the judicial hearing several times over a course of one year. According to a recent database curated by Article 14,6 13,000 people have been charged for sedition between 2010 and 2021 whose fate will be determined by the re-examination. The judiciary having temporally ceded the opportunity to nullify the law despite stated reasons of abuse and colonial baggage, must hold the executive accountable through the process of re-examination. The real function of the sedition law is political which precludes the possibility of legal-judicial checks and will continue to serve the interests of the executive if it is allowed to exist on the statute.

Notes

1 The affidavit filed on behalf of the union of India reads, “… Requiring a penal Provision for such purposes is generally accepted by everyone in legitimate State interest. However, concerns are raised about its application and abuse for the purposes not intended by law,” see S G Vombatkere v Union of India, 11 May 2022.

2 Some contemporary examples: the police registered a case against three Kashmiri students in Agra, Uttar Pradesh on a complaint filed against them by local BJP leaders, after they celebrated the victory of Pakistan in the T20 World Cup (Indian Express, 24 December 2021, https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/lucknow/t20-world-cup-3-agra-students-held-for-cheering-pakistan-win-college-shuts-over-outsider-entry-7594259/); a Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) activist Kuldeep Panchal filed a case of intimidation against a Cuttack resident Ahmed for making threat calls. Police was compelled to add charges of sedition and communal hatred in the same compliant on the ground that in his social media posts Ahmed had made “derogatory remarks” against the Prime Minister as well as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in 2020 (Wire, 6 September 2020, https://thewire.in/government/up-police-muslim-man-odisha-cuttack-sedition-vhp); Tauseef Ahmad Bhat, an engineering student was charged for sedition and arrested by Chhattisgarh police in 2016 for his Facebook post in which he had shared a cartoon showing India as a mouse and another post showing China recognising Kashmir as a disputed territory. A group of 50 people from Bajrang Dal and VHP had come to register the complaint according to the police (Indian Express, 6 August 2016, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/kashmiri-held-for-sedition-chhattisgarh-cops-probe-who-made-anti-india-fb-po­st­-2956483/); Malayalam writer Kamal C Chavara was charged for sedition for a Facebook post which allegedly insulted the National Anthem after Yuva Morcha, the youth wing of BJP, demanded police action in Kerala in 2016. The case was dropped after much criticism (Indian Express, 18 December 2016, https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/thiruvanantha­p­uram/malayalam-writer-kamal-c-chavara-arr­e­sted-for-insulting-national-anthem/); 67 students were charged for sedition in Meerut’s Swami Vivekanand Subharti University for allegedly celebrating the victory of Pakistan cricket team over India in 2014. The BJP workers had met the university administration and demanded stern action against them. The case was later withdrawn (Hindustan Times, 6 March 2014, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/kashmiri-stu­dents-face-sedition-case-omar-complains-to-akhilesh/story-a2aiwQi01itFz8PWD0D7yM.html).

3 Some contemporary examples: Umi Deka Baruah and Kangkana Goswami, advocates based in Guwahati, filed complaint against Sikha Sarma for a Facebook post calling army men as salaried professionals who cannot be termed as martyrs for dying in the line of duty (Indian Express, 7 April 2021, https://indianexpress.com/article/north-east-india/assam/assam-writer-held-for-sedition-for-questioning-martyrs-on-facebook-post-7261901/); Chiranjiv Kumar, a government lawyer in Delhi, filed case against Shashi Tharoor and six journalists—Rajdeep Sardesai, Mrinal Pande, Zafar Agha, Paresh Nath, Anant Nath, and Vinod K Jose—for “misleading tweets blaming Delhi police” for the Republic Day violence. Another complaint was registered by Pankaj Singh, a Gurgaon resident, for the same tweets on the ground that they caused “grave prejudice to the security of the nation” in January 2021 (Indian Express, 31 January 2021, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/sedition-firs-against-tharoor-journalists-now-in-five-states-7168390/); a local resident of Khajuri Khas, Delhi, Chandar Mohan, filed a complaint against unknown persons after he overheard their conversation allegedly regarding “constructing of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya and disrupting Independence Day celebrations at Red Fort in August 2020” (Indian Express, 20 August, https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/ahead-of-independe­nce-day-cops-track-calls-meant-to-stir-tensi­­o­n-6548004/); BJP leader Ajay Shyam filed a case against Vinod Dua in Shimla for spreading fake news by saying the Prime Minister has used “deaths and terror attacks” to get votes (Scroll.in, 13 June 2020, https://scroll.in/latest/964572/delhi-violence-shimla-police-summon-journalist-vinod-dua-after-bjp-leaders-sedition-complaint). Narender Guleria, a lawyer from Shimla, filed a complaint against Neeraj Bharti for his Facebook posts for allegedly making “offensive” remarks against the Prime Minister in June 2020 (Hindustan Times, 30 June 2020, https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/himachal-s-former-cps-neeraj-bharti-gets-bail-in-sedition-case/story-PNtwBBU0SU0k­J3­lXvYp2UN.html); a Zomato delivery agent Raffiq filed a complaint against three students for allegedly shouting “Pakistan Zindabad” in February 2019 (Deccan Herald, 25 Feb 2019, https://www.deccanherald.com/city/sedition-case-against-students-720217.html); lawyer K Vittal Gowda, filed a private complaint against actor Ramya for saying “Pakistan is not hell” after she returned from the SAARC Summit in 2016 (BBChttps://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-37182206).

4 Some contemporary examples: Riyaz Ahamed, a resident of Shivamogga, Karnataka moved court in March 2022 to get an order directing the police to file a case of sedition and other charges against Karnataka Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Minister K S Eshwarappa and a member of the BJP, on the ground that after the murder of Hindu activist Harsha, the Minister had publicly declared that it was a case of political and religious killing (New Indian Express, 31 March 2022, https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/karnataka/2022/mar/31/court-directs-police-to-probe-sedition-charges-against-karnataka-minister-eshwarappa-243­­­6­­­371.html); Bombay lawyer Ali Kaashif Khan Deshmukh moved court to book actor Kangana Ranaut for sedition for her social media posts on the ground that these “posts have defamed the country” in October 2020 (Hindustan Times, 23 October 2020, https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/mumbai-lawyer-files-complaint-to-invoke-sedition-charges-against-actor-kangana-ranaut/story-bEEz27EZuxj­XJm­­gSAisJAP.html); lawyer Juginder Tuli moved court asking for the registration of a sedition case against Rahul Gandhi for accusing the Prime Minister of “hiding behind the blood of soldiers … cashing on their sacrifice” in Delhi in 2016 (Hindustan Times, 26 April 2019, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/delhi-court-seeks-police-response-on-complaint-aga­­i­nst-rahul-s-remarks/story-u3QiSMiEUxKhNmCBzipILN.html); Muzaffarpur (Bihar)-based lawyer Sudhir Ojha has moved the court several times directing the police to register cases, including the case against 49 celebrities who wrote a letter to the Prime Minister flagging rising intolerance in the country in September 2019. He said the celebrities tarnished the image of the country and hence committed an act of sedition. The case was registered but withdrawn after much criticism in the media (The Print, 5 October 2019, https://theprint.in/india/bihar-lawyer-behind-fir-against-49-celebrities-for-modi-letter-had-targeted-bachchan-lalu/­­­301494/). He has previously sought direction to register a case against 21 members of Parliament from Andhra Pradesh for “shaming Indian democracy” by using pepper spray against fellow members in the legislature (phone interview with Sudhir Ojha on 19 July 2014).

5 Siddique Kappan, a Kerala-based journalist was arrested for sedition as well as under the various sections of the UAPA while he was on his way to cover the incident of a gangrape on a Dalit woman in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh. The FIR read that these people (including Kappan) were “going to Hathras to disrupt peace as part of a larger conspiracy” (Scroll, 7 October 2020, https://scroll.in/latest/975157/hathras-rape-sedition-case-filed-against-kerala-journalist-others-arrested-for-alleged-pfi-links); Gogoi was charged for sedition and under UAPA sections, and taken in custody in relation to anti-CAA protests (Deccan Herald, 5 June 2020, https://www.deccanherald.com/national/east-and-northeast/akhil-gogoi-charged-under-sedition-anti-terror-law-846209.html). Gauhati High Court on 1 July 2021 acquitted him of all charges.

Article 14’s sedition database is a collation and analysis of all sedition cases since 2010, offering unprecedented insights into the nature of charges, legal processes that follow, the life of the accused, etc. It is available at https://sedition.article-14.com/.

References

Apurba Krishna v Emperor (1907): Criminal Revision No 1176 of 1907, https://www.casemine.com/judgement/in/5ac5e3224a93261a1a7379dd.

Common Cause and Anr v Union of India (2016): Writ Petition(S) (Civil) No(S) 683/2016, https://main.sci.gov.in/pdf/cir/2016-09-05_147307­­­6­­­904.pdf.

Hindustan Times (2019): “On Day 1, Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren Withdraws Pathalgadi Sedition Cases,” 30 December, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/pathalgadi-sedition-cases-to-be-dropped/story-yQfZq0mQI6yL3vIsqhfHpM.html.

— (2020): “Delhi Riots: Govt Grants Sanction to Prosecute Umar Khalid, Others,” 6 March, https://www.hindustantimes.com/delhi-news/delhi-riots-govt-grants-sanction-to-prosecute-umar-khalid-others/story-gOcXM8QU12dN5sTE65N5PN.html.

Kaviraj, Sudipta (2011): “Nationalism,” The Oxford Companion to Politics in India, Niraja Gopal Jayal and Pratap Bhanu Mehta (eds), New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar (1962): AIR 955, 1962 SCR Supl (2) 769.

Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha and Anr v Union of India (2021): Writ Petition (Criminal), No106/
2021, https://main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2021/4955/4955_2021_33_7_27815_Or­der_30-Apr-2021.pdf.

Mohd Waris @ Raza v State (2019): On 5 August, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/66688216/.

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Updated On : 8th Jul, 2022
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