By Krishna Jha
The charge of sedition, 124 A of the IPC, that has been authorized to punish up to life long incarceration, has been called the Queen of the entire Indian Penal Code. The punishment it envisages is extremely brutal and symbolizes not power, but insecurity. The British colonial regime had passed the act in 1870 to kill any patriotic fervour gripping the masses to keep its hold intact. The act was scrapped in Britain, but our country continues with it, though we are now a sovereign democratic republic.
Slapping the Sedition case has become so common that any exposure of negativity in the government policies is made to come under it. Talking or writing about the floating bodies in the rivers or a snapshot published in a newspaper of someone throwing the physical remains of a dear one from a bridge in some stream, almost a statement on the state handling of the epidemic, may be charged with sedition. It was in the context of such undeserving tragedies, that Justice D Y Chandrachud, heading a three member bench in the Supreme Court, had said on May 31, 2021 that “It is time now to define what is Sedition and what is not.”
It was in the light of the research groups findings that pointed out that the number of Sedition cases has risen in last one decade especially beginning from 2014. The recent flood of alleged Sedition charges has shown how desperate the NDA government has been. Exasperated, the apex court has quashed the charges of sedition filed against the television anchor and Padmashree awardee journalist Vinod Dua who criticized the government’s handling of Covid 19 cases as he was visiting to cover the pandemic conditions in the hills of North India. A senior BJP leader had filed the case against him.
The court also stated that all journalists are protected by the Kedar Nath Singh judgment, that has restricted the power of the 124 A of the IPC or the sedition law. Now it can only be imposed when there is involvement of arms. The journalists covering the incidents involving farmers during January 26, 2021, like Rajdeep Sardesai, Mrinal Pandey and others may be relieved after the ruling of the apex court though one never can be sure about the turn it could take. It is also not yet clear how far the implications would be favorable for those others from the same tribe.
In the states ruled by the BJP, the sedition charges have been slapped quite liberally. The agitations, against Citizenship Amendment Act that spread all over the country, was one such instance. At least 25 sedition cases were filed and 22 of them were in BJP ruled states, and many of them were against the scribes. According to the database, the most affected states have been Bihar, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. Under sedition law, not less than 534 cases have been registered and 65 percent of them are from these states.
Accusing journalists of sedition is the expression of insecurity as the state is itself passing through a deep uncertainty. There are explicit signs of distress as the Supreme Court has pointed out saying that state has become more fragile than it was. According to the research groups, surveys are making more exposures than even the journalists. The downward journey of the system continues. The court has questioned not only the slapping of sedition charges against those who bring to light the gruesome fault lines of the system but also its vaccine policy and even the ‘thinking’ behind it, as it is sarcastically said. Delhi high court has come out with the summing up of the situation as it said that the officers that do not go on getting vaccines for the suffering and refuse to take steps to speed up its production should be charged with manslaughter.
So far as the journalists are concerned, to reflect the truth in all its splendor is not necessarily pleasing to behold. They are always at the risk of getting penalized because the sight they expose, system is always keen to hide. Most of the sedition cases, in its inglorious history, prove the same.
One example is about exposing the atrocities committed against the CAA agitators, as they are denied not only citizenship but are separated from family and stand unemployed. Then there are rebel farmers sitting on dharna for last six months with no one to listen to their demands. These are only tip of an iceberg. It is happening now and had happened earlier. In the backyards of history, there is abundance of such daring writings by those for whom journalism was not a profession but life long search for truth. One such was Bal Gangadhar Tilak who faced not one but several sedition charges in his life.
Among them were those when he wrote against the British rule in Kesari and Mahratta, both brought out by him. Then there were the reports on Mahatma Gandhi after the non-cooperation movement launched against the British government and withdrawn after the Chauri Chaura incident, welcoming the sedition and the resultant punishment. All these are the beacon lights in the performance of journalism, its validity and also the feats. Journalists are the witness of battles that start and end, and wars that are constant.
It was Socrates who had said that those who critique the society, deserve not poison but protection. (IPA Service)