Supreme Court of India puts colonial sedition law into abeyance

621 journalists jailed for ‘sedition’ in the past 29 months

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CJI NV Ramana |sedition
Supreme Court of India Chief Justice NV Ramana

In its order passed on 11 May 2022 in New Delhi, the Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justice Surya Kant, and Justice Hima Kohli put the ancient sedition law enacted by the British in to suppress speech and action against the Indian independence movement in abeyance. The Supreme Court bench made clear in its order that it wanted the central and state governments not to use this law at all while it is under ‘review.’ The court also stayed all existing proceedings under the law.

The order says it is in line with what the Union government claimed in its affidavit, that the Narender Modi government thinks the colonial-era law is “not in line with the current social milieu.” Both petitioners and the attorney general of India pointed out instances when this law has been misused, the court noted. In light of this agreement, “it will be appropriate not to continue the usage of the aforesaid provision of law by the Governments,” the order says.

“We hope and expect that the State and Central Governments will restrain from registering any FIR, continuing any investigation or taking any coercive measures by invoking Section 124A of IPC while the aforesaid provision of law is under review,” the order says. If such cases are still filed, the bench said that affected parties may approach the courts for relief, sighting this particular order.

All pending trials, appeals, and proceedings in sedition cases have been put in abeyance, and the Union of India has also been given the liberty to “issue the Directive as proposed and placed before us, to the State Governments/Union Territories to prevent any misuse of Section 124A of IPC.”

On 18 March 1922, Mahatma Gandhi was convicted and imprisoned under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (‘sedition’) which makes it an offense to spread ‘hatred,’ ‘contempt’ or ‘disaffection’ against the Union. Gandhi remarked on the occasion, “I know that some of the most loved of India’s patriots have been convicted under it. I consider it a privilege, therefore, to be charged under that section.”

A journalist speaks out

When the Supreme Court put Section 124A of the IPC under abeyance on 11 May 2022, it is estimated (for lack of a more accurate figure) that the number of journalists charged with sedition under Section 124 A and jailed were 280 in 2020; 293 in 2021; and, 48 in the current year till February 2022.

Journalist and former editor Harish Khare has in his excellent article on 15 May 2022 (thewire.in) implored Justice Ramana to finish the job he has begun. He writes, “All he [Justice Ramana] has done is perhaps to gently nudge his colleagues back from the jurisprudence of complicity produced by two of his immediate predecessors. He seems to have reminded his fellow judges that the Supreme Court is not in the business of pleasing or displeasing the executive; it has one and only one obligation – to insist and ensure that institutions of power and authority operate only within the four walls of the constitution and its protocols of restraints and constraints on arbitrariness.

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Naresh Khanna
Editor of Indian Printer and Publisher since 1979 and Packaging South Asia since 2007. Trained as an offset printer and IBM 360 computer programmer. Active in the movement to implement Indian scripts for computer-aided typesetting. Worked as a consultant and trainer to the Indian print and newspaper industry. Visiting faculty of IDC at IIT Powai in the 1990s. Also founder of IPP Services, Training and Research and has worked as its principal industry researcher since 1999. Author of book: Miracle of Indian Democracy.

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