Three Jawaharlal Nehru University students are now in custody as the Delhi police begin its probe on what is being referred to as “anti-national” sloganeering on the university campus on February 9, 2016. The charge is that of sedition, something that the apex court of this country has not convicted a single person under, over the last 10 years. Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code that deals with sedition finds mention in 11 Supreme Court judgments between 2005 and 2015. None of these judgments, though, sentenced the accused on charges of sedition.
|Year||Mention of 124A-IPC|
Senior Supreme Court advocate and People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) Vice-President Sanjay Parikh, confirms Newslaundry’s research. “In my knowledge, there are no such cases in recent past where the SC sentenced someone for sedition.” He explains that the charge of sedition pops up mostly in terror cases but the verdicts rely on and cite criminal offences like Terrorists and Disruptive Activities(Prevention Act), commonly known as TADA.
What the numbers say
The latest National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data for 2014 shows that 47 cases were recorded under Section 124A (sedition). This data is based on the chargesheets filed under the said law in various states.
Interestingly, sedition recorded as a sperate crime category in the NCRB data was introduced in 2014 under the current National Democratic Alliance governmnet. NCRB Chief Statistical Officer Akhilesh Kumar says, “Previously, sedition cases came under the category of other crimes, which has various petty crimes.”Kumar states that every year the NCRB arranges a meeting with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to decide on the categories of crime. It was in one such meeting in 2015 that the top officals of MHA and NCRB decided that crime against the state which include categories like sedition, attempting to wage war and promoting enimity between different groups on grounds of religion will be shown as a different category in NCRB data.
Effectively, we have no consolidated NCRB data for sedition cases before 2014.
If we were to look at the 2014 data, Bihar and Jharkand emerge as the two most, should we say, seditious states. Jharkhand tops the list with 18 cases and Bihar with 16. Director General of Police (DGP) Bihar PK Thakur says, “All the arrested people are members of CPI (Maoist). They are very active in some parts of Bihar and involved in various crimes. They have disbelief for Indian democracy and often get involved in anti-state activities by circulating leaflets and putting posters,” he says.
When asked about the identities of these people, he asserted that, “for security reasons the identities are not possible to disclose.”
Inspector General (Operations) of Jharkhand MS Bhatia has similar observations, “Jharkhand is in the top of the list because of Maoist activists. They often come to the villages and interact with poor villagers. They also arrange small and secret meetings. When we arrest someone in these cases then it comes under sedition,” he says. None mentioned sloganeering specifically as one of the offences.
A look at Bihar High Court and Jharkhand High Court judgements of the past five years shows that 88 and 41 cases respectively, mention Section 124A.Again the two high courts did not sentence the accused under charges of sedition. The convictions were carried out under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
The Bihar High court found 10 out of the 88 charged with sedition guilty of offences under UAPA, Arms Act and so on.
The Jharkhand High court found 5 out of the 41 guilty under the UAPA and Arms Act.
PUCL General Secretary D Suresh says, “The difference in number of cases in HC and SC is because most of these cases get rejected in the High Court itself. If you look into the ground data then you will find that mostly sedition cases get rejected in the trial court.” He also said, “the governments and the police often use this law to threaten people.”
Advocate Sanjay Parikh expalins: “In 1962 Supreme Court has explained the 124A-IPC in Kedar Nath Singh Vs Bihar case. This explanation is given on the basis of article 19(1)(1), which is freedom of speech and expression.”
Number of cases mentioning sedition in Jharkhand and Bihar High Court (2011-2015)
|Years||Jharkhand HC||Bihar HC|
Sedition as a tool to intimidate
Aseem Trivedi, a political cartoonist, was arrested on sedition charges in 2012 under the United Progressive Alliance says, “Sedition charge has always been misused by the state. Applying this law is specifically an attack on dissent.” Sharing his experience, he says, “Judges have clearly said that in my case the charge of sedition was incorrect and rejected the case. But I was in jail for a long time. If arrest under this law happens then getting bail becomes difficult.”
Doctor and social activist Binayak Sen, who was arrested and booked under 124A in 2007 agrees, “In India, there are many incidents where arrests under sedition have occurred but the issues were different.” He gives the example of Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu,where the police arrested 11 protestors who were raising their voices against the building of a nuclear plant. Sen says, “These arrests were under sedition. The protesters were poor villagers and it is very difficult to assume that they had an intention to disrespect India.”
Human rights activist Paramjeet Singh of Peoples Union of Democratic Rights (PUDR) says, “Use of sedition for political gain is an old practice and it has been performed by all the governments.” Giving example of farmer leader Ghasi Ram Nain’s arrest, Singh says, “In 2001,Haryana police arrested 15 farmers of Bharatiya Kishan Union (BKU). They were protesting regarding farming issues but police arrested them under under 124A. These protesters were innocent farmers and they were shouting slogans against the government policies. But police interpreted these as hate speech against the state.”
The curious case of Kashmir
An anomaly in 2014 NCRB data is the Jammu and Kashmir where not a single arrest was made under sedition charges despite the presence of separatist activity in the Kashmir Valley.
SP Vaid, additional director general of police (ADGP), Kashmir, however, confirmed to Newslaundry that the police arrests people on sedition charges.“We arrest people of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat under sedition because they give anti-India slogans and do separatist activities.” When asked why these arrests are not reflected in NCRB data, he said he did not know why. Inspector General of Jammu, Dinish Rana, says “I don’t remember the data of 2014 but here we arrest separatist people under sedition. We arrest them first then check the background along with the details of the exact activity to file chargesheets.”
Ayaz Akhbar, spokesperson of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, confirms the above statements, “Here both police and the military arrest us and don’t even produce us in court. Sedition is a baseless law and we condemn every arrest under sedition.”
It appears that in Kashmir while arrests are being made under sedition charges, they aren’t being recorded as such.
The verdict on sedition
It’s amply clear from data at hand that it is the police more than the judicairy that uses Section 124 A to take criminals to task. Given that not a single judgement in the Supreme Court over the past 10 years uses the charge of sedition to sentence the guilty, it may be time for lawmakers to scrap a redundant law. Surely, the Indian state has enough laws at hand to lock-up and punish those who indulge in criminal activity.