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Combating Sedition

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The Union Government has expressed its willingness to ‘reexamine’ the sedition law but does not feel it can be abolished altogether. The primary argument against the law is that it belongs to the British era and was used to suppress the freedom struggle and has no place in a free India. It overlooks the fact that there actually is such a thing as sedition. While the British may have mistakenly considered themselves rightful rulers over India, the post-Independence governments are certainly legitimate entities. Adoption of unlawful means to try and depose them, particularly through violence, is a specific crime that cannot be covered under any other law.

Those who agitate against such laws must realise that, in the absence of legitimate pre-emption of violent crimes, the only recourse available to security forces would be greater counter-violence. This would cause more harm to the few who may have genuine grievances against the state, or the innocent caught in the midst of some agitation. It is true that such ‘directed’ laws allow preventive detention of suspects without bail, sometimes for long periods, but that is much better than ‘elimination’.

Many laws that were designed to deal with specific problems have been scrapped over the years. AFSPA, in the present day, is being gradually wound down as political engagement with erstwhile radical groups has increased. Measures that were taken when the Khalistan movement was at its peak became irrelevant over time. So, it is an ongoing process.

The real need is for better safeguards within the laws, and adherence to the constitutional processes. An important element in this is improved training of security personnel. It can be seen that even very ordinary laws and regulations are often misused by bureaucrats and the police to torment the common people for the purposes of extortion. If this was not the case, it would not be possible for them to have enormous amounts of money stuffed into their mattresses. It is not so much the laws that are oppressive – since these are passed by an elected Parliament – but the manner of their use.

When the courts are approached, they have to primarily decide on the constitutionality of the laws. It is for the legislature to decide their purpose and manner of use. Impractical and utopian constraints can lead to desperate governments and officials resorting to ‘encounter raj’, which is certainly not the objective of any well-meaning intervention. Attacking the territorial integrity of India or seeking illegally to destabilise an elected government is certainly a crime that requires laws to prevent and punish – there are no two ways about it.