24th March, 2016
Kasturi Srinivasan Hall, The Music Academy, Royapettah, Chennai (600014)
India’s sedition laws were introduced during the British rule in 1870 to suppress dissent in colonial India.
Among its most notable victims during British rule were nationalist leaders Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi and Annie Besant. After independence, the laws continue to be on the statute books.
The issue of compatibility of sedition laws with free speech in a democracy has come under criticism several times since independence.
Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which is invoked by governments in free India reads as follows:
“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. 2[* * *] the Government established by law in 3[India], 4[* * *] shall be punished with 5[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.
Explanation 1.-The expression “disaffection” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity
Explanation 2.-Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.
Explanation 3.-Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.”
Despite independent India’s judiciary reading down Article 124A as early as 1962 in Kedar Nath v State of Bihar, it continues to be invoked by some governments, largely as a political tool, to arrest even dissenters.
Some infamous instances include the case against Dr. Binayak Sen, doctor and human rights activist who was sentenced to life by a trial court for being a Maoist sympathiser, and Aseem Trivedi, a cartoonist who was sent to jail for his cartoons against corruption.
In 2012, anti-nuclear activist S.P. Udayakumar and others in Idinthakarai hamlet near Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu were booked under sedition after they resisted the setting up of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant.
On October 20, 2015, a Tamil folk singer, Kovan, was charged with sedition and jailed for a song criticising the State’s Chief Minister and the government for its policy on retail sale of liquor.
Earlier this year, Delhi Police arrested the president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union, Kanhaiya Kumar, on February 12, 2016 for sedition based on reports that anti-India slogans were allegedly raised at the University during a protest meeting.
This arrest has placed the spotlight again on the rationale behind sedition laws remaining in the statute books in a democracy.
Against this backdrop, The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy invites you to a panel discussion on Free Speech and Sedition in a Democracy. Panellists are Justice K. Chandru, Retired Judge, Madras High Court, A.X. Alexander, Retired Director General of Police, Tamil Nadu, Sriram Panchu, Advocate, Madras High Court and Moderated by N. Ravi, Director, Kasturi & Sons Limited, and former Editor-in-chief, The Hindu.
All are welcome.
To Register, contact by email or phone:
Phone: +914428524445 (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.)