Dr. Binayak Sen has been sentenced to a life term under what is known as the sedition clause in the Indian Penal Code Section 124-A. This is the same clause using which the British sent two famous patriotic Indians - Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi – to prison. This is the same clause about which Jawaharlal Nehru said: “…so far as I am concerned that particular Section is highly objectionable and obnoxious and it should have no place both for practical and historical reasons, if you like, in any body of laws that we might pass. The sooner we get rid of it the better.” Yet 60 years after
“124A. Sedition – 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], shall be punished with [imprisonment for life], to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine. Explanation 1.- The expression “disaffection” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity. Explanation 2.- Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section. Explanation 3.- Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.”
Given that the preceding Sections in the Indian Penal Code specifically deal with waging war against the state, Section 124-A seems but an excessive bar on free speech. Moreover, here Dr. Binayak Sen did not himself express any opinion or make comment about sedition or waging war and what the prosecution did was to construct a loose narrative based on faulty evidence that a) Dr. Binayak Sen is known to be sympathetic to Naxalites who are waging war against the state; b) he acted as an intermediary between arrested naxalite Narayan Sanyal and the party by carrying letters between them. c) By carrying letters between two Naxalites who are waging war against the state, he participated in a conspiracy to overthrow the state. Ergo, Dr. Binayak Sen is guilty of sedition. The ease with which this has been accomplished by the trial court in
Recall what Mahatma Gandhi said during the famous Ahmedabad trial in 1922: “Section 124 A under which I am happily charged is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the IPC designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen. Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by the law.” He also asserted that “What in law is a deliberate crime appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen,” and finally, “to preach disaffection towards the existing system of Government has become almost a passion with me.” Though Mahatma Gandhi, in his own peculiar manner, pleaded guilty and asked the Judge to sentence him to the maximum punishment under the said provision, the judge R.S. Broomfield, convicted him and sentenced him to six years of rigorous imprisonment, conceding that “It would be impossible to ignore the fact that in the eyes of millions of your countrymen you are a great patriot and a great leader.” And nearly 80 years later, the judge in
I. Mallikarjuna Sharma, Advocate, 6-3-1243/116, M.S. Makta,
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