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See no room for sedition law in this democracy, says lawyer Lubhayathi Rangarajan

Updated : July 15, 2021 18:28:18 IST

The Supreme Court today expressed concerns over the potential misuse of the 150-year-old Sedition Law. Chief justice NV Ramana has questioned whether the law, which was used by the British to silence the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Lokmanya Tilak, was still necessary 75 years after India’s independence.

A three-judge bench led by the Chief Justice has agreed to hear a petition filed by a retired major general and has sent a notice to the Centre seeking a reply on the alleged misuse of the sedition law.

Calling the British-era sedition law as "colonial", the Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Centre to respond to a former army officer's petition and questioning its "misuse."

The plea, filed by Major-General S G Vombatkere (Retd) submitted that “Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with the offence of sedition, is wholly unconstitutional and should be unequivocally and unambiguously struck down".

The Centre has been issued a notice and it has to defend Section 124-A, whether or not it is required, what is the rationale behind it and whether or not to answer the critical question on this British Colonial Law.

CNBC-TV18 spoke with Lubhayathi Rangarajan, lawyer and Researcher, to discuss this in detail. She also heads the sedition database launched by the website Article 14.

Referring to the data and analysis of the kinds of cases that have been filed dating back a decade, she said, “It is interesting what we found in terms of data going back a decade, the Congress approach is different to what this government has. Under the Congress, one of the major cases was the protest in Kudankulam against the nuclear power plant being built and there were hundreds of cases filed against 8,000 to 10,000 by reports.”

“Under the Congress, there was a certain narrative under sedition cases. Under this government what we have seen certainly is Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Bihar, and Jharkhand having very high numbers of sedition cases.”

“UP and Karnataka are quite concerning in how they also file sedition cases against social media users and how mistakes like simply clicking on a photo on Facebook or sharing a post on WhatsApp that is either anti-Hindu or pro-Pakistan both of these instances are where sedition cases are filed,” she said.

She added that the speed at which the police process takes over, the speed at which people are put in prison -- many of them are given bail after many months. In the process, they lose their jobs, education because many are young. So, the impact of sedition is very much seen in consequences that the pre-trial process has, she said.

To this end, the lower number of convictions indicate judicial delay but the answer is not let us have more convictions under sedition. "So, the answer certainly is yes, the law is being misused, yes one needs accountability but does it have room anymore in this democracy? No, it doesn’t.”

For the entire discussion, watch the accompanying video
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