Sedition Charge is a Punishment In Itself
By Michael Samjetsabam
Black anti-racism activist Malcolm X in his famous speech given in 1962 at Los Angeles said there is "no man of God in the Bible who was not put in jail when they start speaking out against exploitation and oppression. They charged Jesus with sedition. Didn’t they do that? They said he was against Caesar."
Exploitation and oppression entail draconian provisions historically. Sedition law, section 124(A) of the Indian Penal Code defines sedition as "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, the Government established by law in [India]..." However, the Supreme Court's 1962 judgement on Kedarnath vs The State of Bihar clearly states that using strong language or comments against a Government, if it does not incite violence, does not amount to sedition. Importantly the violent public disorder, if it happens, must immediately connect with the comments made. When there is no violence following the speech, the matter does not amount to seditious. This landmark judgement has been the premise of all the sedition case post-1962 in India.
In an article published on the 18th of July 2018 in India Today reports 179 sedition related arrests between 2014 and 2016, out of which only two people were convicted in these three years on matters of sedition. The convictions happened in the state of Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh. Seeing the data, one can conveniently conclude that the conviction rate is meagre. The supreme court has cautioned the police for its rampant use of the law addressing a 2016 petition against the sedition law. It has instructed the police departments to take into accounts its 1962 judgement. The accused is punished until the acquittal through a tedious, intimidating, bureaucratic legal procedure which includes the expenditure of huge sums of money. The accused cannot use his/her passport and must report to the authorities whenever required during the trail. The legal process is a punishment in itself. Progressive legal activists and Supreme Courts advocates have argued that this regressive law has no place in a democratic setup. However, the law persists in India till today.
The sedition law in India dates back to the British colonial era. It was introduced in the year 1870. The British primarily used the legislation to crush the dissenting nationalists in the then Indian subcontinent. A combine milieu of repressive laws such as National Security Act (NSA), Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and 124(A) rule those places where Indian state faces challenges. The small North East region in India had the highest number of sedition cases in 2015. A report published on the 22nd of September 2016 in The Hindu claims that out 147 cases registered in 2015, 42 per cent is from the North East region in which most cases are registered in Assam. Manipur had four sedition cases between 2014 and 2016. However, Manipur makes it up in another draconian act, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). In an article published in The Hindu on the 29th of March 2016 claims that nine hundred seventy-five cases of UAPA cases in 2014 were registered out of which six hundred thirty cases were from Manipur. Six hundred fifty-nine people are charged in these cases. Nearly 65 per cent of all the UAPA cases registered in 2014 was in Manipur. However, Manipur’s population is around 0.2 per cent of India's population. The ratio needs no elaboration and interpretation. Furthermore, we must remember AFSPA is another repressive law that rules Manipur.
The most recent case of sedition in Manipur is against Kishorchandra Wangkhem, a journalist. Police had arrested Kishorchandra Wahengbam previously in August 2018 over a Facebook post. The earlier charge consists 505(2)/500 IPC. Police arrested him for the second time on the 20th of November again over a Facebook live video. He used strong language against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren in the said video. He criticized the celebration of Rani Jhansi in Manipur arguing that she has nothing to do with the history of Manipur. The video was widely circulated and commented on in the social media. Police invoked 124(A) this time. Imphal West Chief Judicial Magistrate granted him bail on the 26th of November; the bail order maintains that there is nothing which calls for invoking 124(A) in Kishorchandra’s case. Using strong language, as mentioned earlier, does not amount to sedition. And importantly there was no ‘violent disorder’ after his comments. He spent six days in Police custody in the recent case and was released on bail. He paid seventy thousand rupees as bond. The case probably will go on for decades in court which will limit his freedom and liberty as a citizen. Moreover, Police arrested Kishorchandra again on the next day after he was granted bail. They arrested him without providing any document or reason on the 27th of November, and according to his family, he is now in Sajiwa Central Jail.
The use of sedition law against journalists in Manipur is not new. RK Ranendrajit was charged with sedition in 1997 for allegedly publishing ‘anti-India’ and ‘inflammatory’ materials in his English newspaper Freedom. The case went on for 17 years, and the sedition charge was dropped in 2014. District and Session Judge A Guneshwor, Manipur East Court said there was no prima facie evidence of sedition in this case. The current Chief Minister of Manipur Nongthombam Biren himself bore the brunt of sedition on the 14th of April 2000 when he was a journalist in Naharolgi Thoudang. People came out on the streets protesting his arrest. On the 6th of May 2000, District and Session Judge, Manipur East Court dismissed the charge and set him free.
It seems Manipur Police has disregarded the earlier 2016 Supreme Court instruction in matters of sedition entirely while pursuing Kishorchandra’s case. This police action, in this sedition case, has silenced criticisms against the ruling government in Manipur and at the Centre. Even if the police denies any intentionality, the endgame is served as sedition is charged and the charge is a ‘punishment in itself’.
(The author is Research Scholar, IIT, Bombay and can be reached at [email protected])
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