Saturday, 18 February 2017
Column of Soli Sorabjee: Sedition by Soli Sorabjee
“The duty of a true Patriot is to protect his country from its government” – Thomas Paine
When Thomas Paine was charged with sedition, in summer of 1792, he answered the sedition and libel charges thus: "If, to expose the fraud and imposition of monarchy ... to promote universal peace, civilisation, and commerce, and to break the chains of political superstition, and raise degraded man to his proper rank; if these things be libelous ... let the name of libeler be engraved on my tomb."
‘Sedition’ perhaps, appears to be a tool of the Government of the State to protect the Government from destabilisation by the troubling questions which the citizens’ might raise of which the Government has no answer or perhaps, it is dangerous to answer those questions for the Government. When the Government operates with such a notion, the Government becomes less of a Government and more of a deity. The form of Government, for instance, ‘Democracy’, becomes analogous to Religion where, the Government becomes the supreme lord and any objection against the supreme lord would be regarded as ‘Blasphemy’, in such a way, Blasphemy becomes analogous to Sedition.
Mr Sorabjee has rightly said in his article that yes, no Fundamental Rights is absolute in our Constitution. As Article 19 (1)(a) gives right to freedom of speech and expression, Article 19(2) says about the reasonable restrictions imposed on it. Sedition, as defined under Section 124 A of IPC, is not to be interpreted literary and the definition has been redefined by SC in Kedarnath Singh v. State of Bihar which should be taken into consideration. Mr Sorabjee brings the incident of Divya Spandanaalias Ramya, who in response to Defense minister’s statement differed, and recounted that people of Pakistan are hospital, should it be taken as Sedition? A state may not have a favourable relationship with state B but, in such case should appreciating State B be considered as sedition? That would mean, appreciating one is resulting in the insult of the other, is it so? Above all, is sedition above Truth? Should we give sedition the authority to label us as ‘anti-nationals’ because, we uttered the truth, because we expressed our true opinions fully understanding the repercussions, if so, then it means, in the name of ‘national interest’ which more than often intersects and overlaps with ‘government’s interest’ we can or we have the legality to butcher truth, if truth is having potential to expose the inhuman and bloody side of ‘national interest’. Nowadays, in the market, national interest comes with a mask, sold by the self-proclaimed political babas. Romanticising national interest has grabbed the market with such force that any people telling anything against the nation’s activities attracts verbal punishments and then legal. Recently, as Mr Sorabjee has also mentioned, Amnesty International was booked under sedition as in Bangalore they organized an event regarding the Human Rights violation in Kashmir, arguments took place among the gatherings, some supported the Indian Army and, others blamed them for violating the rights of Kashmiris, later part, few people started raising slogans demanding Azadi for Kashmiri people. We must ask ourselves the question, what should prevail if, following National Interest or doing something in the said name, results in a violation of Public Interest or the interest of Humanity in general or Human Beings? When Supreme Court said Indian Army committed 1528 fake encounters in Manipur then should we regard the act of Supreme Court as ‘Anti-National’? Shouldn’t truth be a valid defence of sedition? In India, the trial takes place first in the Public through the media and then media gives out the judgement with the tag ‘Anti-National’, ‘Nationalist’, ‘Bhakt’etc. And much much and much after that, the Court comes out with its judgement but, the reputation of the person had already been decided by then among the public. What will happen when the Government becomes the most ‘Anti-Public Interest’ while pursuing ‘National Interest’? Mr Sorabjee, however, agrees on the significance of the existence of Sedition, but, what I think is, Sedition helps to maintain the stability of the state, which is the main purpose and the means to achieve that is by maintaining the stability of the Governments, in a Banana Republic even a State has to perish. There must be a reasonable immediate nexus between words and the influence in the public, if the words are not having any immediate potential to inflict violence and destabilise the Government then it shouldn’t be regarded as Sedition.
Revolution may be considered as a wider part, of which Sedition is a very small part. If we see Aristotle’s causes of revolution, we will see that gross inequality is one of the main causes of revolution. In a Democracy, the demagogues try to be inclined to the capitalist class and maintaining good relationship helps both, the lower section of the society is less bothered and considered by the Government. Wide inequality may give birth to hatred and disaffection towards the established Government. As per Aristotle, revolution is not desirable, because he knew without the stability of political system good life will never be possible. To maintain that desirable stability, he recommended the establishment of ‘Polity’ i.e. the rule of the middle class, which will be able to remove the gross inequality among varied classes and this corresponds to his basic cause of revolution namely, inequality and injustice. The government must legislate to maintain the stability of the state and for this, Aristotle suggests the Government should be sincere and honest, no hide and seek with the citizens, the Government must not try to fool the masses. When people will come to know the reality they will revolt and ‘sedition’ may be witnessed if the Government is not ‘for’ the People. The Government must attempt to establish a good relation with the people. The government must make sure to be such a Government that there is no need to use the Sedition law in the state, the Government must maintain a harmonious relationship with the demos. To maintain the stability of the Constitution, the most effective way according to Aristotle is a system of education which is ideal for the existing order. “Neither must we suppose,” says Aristotle “that any one of the citizens belongs to himself, for they all belong to the state, and are each of them a part of the state”. Which essentially means the people must learn the values and norms of Democracy, the spread of education is a vital factor of stability, it prevents disorder and chaos.
“It is useless to have the most beneficial rules of society fully agreed upon by all members of the constitution, if individuals are not going to be trained and have their habits formed for that constitution.” - Aristotle