Sedition cases—in violation of clear Supreme Court guidelines—against six journalists and former deputy secretary of state Shashi Tharoor on 28 January 2020 in 10 first information reports (FIRs) across five states where the police are controlled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are a part of a flood of such cases against critics and dissenters, coinciding with the increase to power of Prime Minister Narendra Modi since 2014.
Article 14’s sedition database, a count and analysis of all sedition cases since 2010, reveals:
- 65% of nearly 11,000 individuals in 816 sedition cases since 2010 were implicated after 2014 when Modi took office. Among those charged with sedition: opposition politicians, students, journalists, authors and academics.
- 96% of sedition cases filed against 405 Indians for criticising politicians and governments over the last decade were registered after 2014, with 149 accused of creating “critical” and/or “derogatory” remarks against Modi, 144 against Uttar Pradesh (UP) chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
- A 28% increase within the number of sedition cases filed annually between 2014 and 2020, Modi’s time in office, compared to the yearly average between 2010 and 2014, the second term of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) administration.
- Much of this increase is due to a surge in sedition cases after protest movements, like those against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 and therefore the rape of a Dalit teen at Hathras in UP.
- During the anti-CAA protests, 22 of 25 sedition cases involving 3,700 people were filed in BJP-ruled states. After the Pulwama attack, 26 of 27 sedition cases involving 42 persons were filed in BJP-ruled states.
- Of the five states with the very best number of sedition cases, a majority were registered during the BJP’s time in power in four of them—Bihar, UP, Karnataka and Jharkhand.
- In UP, 77% of 115 sedition cases since 2010 were registered over the last four years, since Yogi Adityanath became the chief minister. quite half these were around problems with “nationalism”: against those that protested the CAA, for shouting “Hindustan Murdabad”, allegedly celebrating Pulwama attack and India’s loss in 2017 ICC Champions Trophy.
- In Bihar, between 2010-2014, the bulk of sedition cases associated with Maoism and counterfeit currency. After 2014, 23% of sedition cases were against those that protested the CAA, against celebrities who spoke up against lynching and intolerance and people who allegedly raised “pro-Pakistan” slogans.
Article 14’s sedition database tracks all cases registered between 1 January 2010 and 31 December 2020 under the Indian legal code (IPC)’s section 124A, which deals with sedition, a 151-year-old law used against Indians by the colonial government.
This is the primary independent database to trace and analyse the utilization of section 124A. The initiative is particularly significant since the union home ministry started collecting such data through the National Crime Records Bureau only in 2014.
Section 124A deals with words, signs or visual representation that brings or attempts to bring “into hatred or contempt or excites disaffection against the Government” and may be punished by imprisonment for all times with a fine or imprisonment which will reach three years with a fine. The database has found that of nearly 11,000 individuals against whom sedition cases were filed over the last 10 years, 2,000 were mentioned by name, including nine minors, and therefore the rest “unidentified” with 816 cases registered. The post-2014 trend is that those named in these cases include opposition politicians, students, journalists, authors and academics.
“It is now clear (from these data) that the law isn’t being misused, but is being abused,” said Justice (retired) Madan Lokur, a former judge of the Supreme Court, who also serves on Article 14’s planning board . “It’s an excellent tragedy, more particularly so because from the brief description of cases, it might appear that a lot of of them would run foul of the law laid down by the Supreme Court within the Kedar Nath Singh and Balwant Singh decisions.”
Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar & Balwant Singh & Bhupinder Singh vs State of Punjab, the choices Justice Lokur mentioned , made it plain that the sedition law could only be used when there was incitement to violence, or if there was intention to make disorder.
Despite two text messages and two emails, Anil Baluni, the BJP’s chief spokesperson and therefore the media-in-charge, didn’t answer to Article 14.
To Shine a light-weight On Data And Trauma
In preparation for over six months now, the database uses data of sedition cases mined from various sources: the district court portal, state police websites, high courts nationwide and law-centric websites, like India Kanoon, SCC Online and Manupatra.
Lubhyathi Rangarajan, a lawyer who heads the project, said that the database, still under construction, also intended to trace the progress of those cases through the judiciary over the approaching months.
“It is obvious that thousands of individuals have suffered the results of those charges,” said Rangarajan. “Our attempt is to shine a light-weight not just on the very fact that the method is that the punishment but also the traumatic impact that these charges wear people’s lives.”
The database found 519 sedition cases filed under the present BJP government over six years, compared to 279 filed between 2010 and should 2014 during the tenure of the previous UPA-2 government. Of the 279, 39% were filed during the Kudankulam Protests in Tamil Nadu , against a nuclear plant, and in reference to left-wing extremism across India. there have been 18 cases that the database couldn’t determine the regime, thanks to inadequate information.
The database found the range of expressions found seditious extended from mere holding of posters to social media posts, to raising slogans and personal communication.
In nearly 30% of cases, a spread of other laws, like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967, Prevention of injury to property Act, 1984, and therefore the Information Technology Act, 2000, Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, Disaster Management Act, 2005 were added to the FIRs.
The database found that five states—Bihar, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu—accounted for 534 cases, nearly 65% of all sedition cases within the last decade.
While cases in Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka were focussed on “nationalism”-related offences, states in central and eastern India largely used sedition law against those involved in left-wing extremism and protests over land.
Tackling Critics, BJP Style
A dominant pattern that the info reveal is that the increase in sedition cases over the last six years, since Modi entered office.
Of 10,938 Indians accused of sedition over the last decade, 65% found themselves so implicated after May 2014, when the Modi government came to power.
Much of this increase in sedition cases has been driven by the way BJP-ruled state governments have pursued critics and protesters. The database found that sedition charges were a de-facto strategy for several of those governments, whenever they encountered public criticism and protests.
The database observed surges in sedition cases during major protests or political events critical of the BJP government at the Centre and therefore the states.
Leaders of the Patidar and therefore the Jat agitations were charged with sedition in 2015 and 2016. In 2017, cases in Haryana shot abreast of account of the protests against Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s conviction. The Pathalgadi movement in Jharkhand led to many Adivasis being charged with sedition in 2018. After coming to power in December 2019, the Hemant Soren-led government had recommended dropping these cases. However, recent news reports suggest that these charges are yet to be formally withdrawn.
Such a trend was most visible after nationwide protests erupted protesting the Modi government’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in December 2019. Across the country, police authorities booked 3,754 individuals and filed 25 sedition cases, of which 96 were identified and therefore the rest were “unidentified”. Of the 25 cases, 22 were in BJP-ruled states. After public outcry, the Jharkhand government had recommended dropping charges against 3,000 individuals who had been booked under Section 124A by the Dhanbad police.
Similarly, after the Pulwama surprise attack in February 2019, when 40 paramilitary personnel were killed by a terrorist , 27 cases were filed against 44 individuals—from allegedly raising “Pro-Pakistan” slogans to posting “anti-national” messages on social media: 26 of those 27 cases were filed in BJP-ruled states.
Most recently, when protests broke out after the death of the 19-year-old Dalit victim of a brutual gangrape in Hathras district in September last year, the UP government filed 22 cases of sedition against a minimum of 18 unidentified individuals and five known persons, including a journalist and an official . Protests had broken out against the UP-government’s handling of the incident, including its decision to forcibly cremated the victim against her family members’ wishes in their absence.
An ‘Obnoxious’ Archaic Law, A Fresh Impetus
Section 124A was first introduced by the colonial British administration in 1870 against Indian nationalist leaders and revolutionaries, because the demand for freedom gained ground after the primary war of independence in 1957.
Its most famous undertrial was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who in March 1922 faced trial for sedition for 3 articles he wrote in Young India, a weekly paper that he had started. At the trial, Gandhi called sedition the “prince among the sections of the IPC designed to suppress the freedom of the citizen”. It was, he added, his “privilege” to be charged under the section “as a number of the foremost loved of India’s patriots”.
The retention of the law in an independent India had been a matter of a fierce debate—the country’s first Prime Minister Nehru called the supply “obnoxious” and “highly objectionable” and had added that “the sooner we get obviate it the better”.
Over the last six years to 2020, senior leaders of the BJP, including Modi, have backed the sedition law. When the Congress’ manifesto on the eve of the 2019 general elections promised to repeal sedition, Modi mocked the move and accused the Congress of “stooping low to return back to power”.
“Congress wants to encourage those that burn the tricolour, those that don’t chant Jai Hind such as you and me and rather utter the divisive lines like Bharat tere tukde tukde (India, may you become pieces),” he had then said, in an election rally in Guwahati.
Days after Modi’s speech, then Union Home minister Rajnath Singh said that the party planned to “make provisions of the sedition law more stringent to see anti-national activities,” if it had been elected to power for a second term.
After Modi came to power in New Delhi , the BJP’s rise across state capitals has been meteoric—from ruling seven states in 2014, it controlled 21 states by 2018.
Its rise, as we said, coincided with an identical increase in sedition cases.
For instance, Bihar, which the BJP has ruled in alliance with the Janata Dal (United) since 2005, has seen 168 cases since 2010, the very best for any State. Of these, only 30 were filed during the 20 month-long mahagathbandhan or “grand alliance” government.
Cases registered in Bihar before and after the Modi government came to power in 2014 are substantially different.
Between 2010 and should 2014, Bihar saw 58 sedition cases, the most important number, 16, filed against those accused of being Maoists and five against those smuggling counterfeit currency.
After May 2014, aside from 33 cases filed against those accused of being Maoists, the state also filed 20 cases against those that criticised the govt for the CAA, against celebrities who spoke up about intolerance and hate crime and people accused of writing or chanting “pro-Pakistan” slogans.
In November 2015, Muzaffarpur Sadar police headquarters in northern Bihar registered an FIR against actor Aamir Khan and his wife Kiran Rao, accusing them of sedition and promoting enmity between religious groups after Khan said he was “alarmed” and “depressed” over rising intolerance and “growing disquiet” within the country.
The same police headquarters , four years later in October 2019, registered a case of sedition against 49 eminent individuals, including filmmaker Mani Ratnam, historian Ramchandra Guha, actors Aparna Sen and Konkana Sen Sharma, after they wrote to Modi criticising mob lynchings. The police later dropped the case.
Similarly, in UP, 77% of 115 sedition cases since 2010 were registered over the last three years, since Yogi Adityanath took over because the chief minister. Of these, quite half were filed on problems with “nationalism”—accusing people of creating “anti-India” remarks or writing and chanting “Pro-Pakistan” slogans.
The UP government adopted an identical approach towards its critics filing 28 cases against protesters and critics critical of amended citizenship laws and handling of the gang rape in Hathras.
The UP government was particularly harsh on those criticising the govt and party leaders, including Yogi and Modi. a minimum of 18 sedition cases were filed against 149 such critics. The list of these accused in from sedition include former head of the Congress’ digital team Divya Spandana and Aam Aadmi Party member of parliament Sanjay Singh. Spandana tweeted a digitally-altered photo showing Modi painting the word chor (thief) on the forehead of his own wax statue. Singh conducted a survey which, he alleged, revealed that the Yogi government was working for a “particular caste”.
The only non-BJP ruled state among the highest five states with the foremost sedition cases is Tamil Nadu , which recorded 139 cases over the last decade. However, nearly 80% of those were filed by the J Jayalalithaa-led government against those that were protesting against the development of the Kudankulam Nuclear Plant in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district.
Violating Supreme Court Orders
In 2016, while it had been hearing a petition filed by an activist, S P Udayakumar, charged with sedition for his role within the Kudankulam protest, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court, reiterated the principles laid down in Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar.
The Court said that “authorities shall be guided by the principles” laid down within the landmark 1962 judgment. A constitution bench then held that criticising the govt “in strong terms,” or “very strong speech…using very vigorous words during a writing” cannot not be considered seditious.
Yet, a minimum of 405 individuals were charged with sedition for criticising national leaders and governments over the last decade. Of these, 96% had cases registered against them after the Modi government came to power, a majority of them in states ruled by the BJP, with 149 individuals accused of creating “critical” and/or “derogatory” remarks against Modi.
Similarly, in 1995 the Supreme Court in Balwant Singh & Bhupinder Singh vs State of Punjab said “casual raising of slogans” can’t be considered to be sedition unless those slogans “created any law and order problems” or shall “incite people to make disorder”.
The 1995 judgement was associated with a case where the accused had allegedly raised pro-Khalistani slogans of “Khalistan zindabad (long live Khalistan)”, “Raj Karega Khalsa (the Khalsa will rule)” and “Hinduan Nun Punjab Chon Kadh Ke Chhadange, Hun Mauka Aya Hai Raj Kayam Karan Da” (Hindus will leave Punjab, we’ll rule) in Chandigarh on 31 October, 1984, hours after the assassination of Prime Minister Gandhi .
Despite the Supreme Court judgement, our database showed that a complete of 1310 individuals, or 12% of people , are charged over the last decade for shouting slogans—from hailing Pakistan to those in favour of jailed activist Sharjeel Imam.
Such trends are “frightening” and “ominous signs” for the country, consistent with retired Justice Lokur.
“The clear indication is that it’s not only dissent but disagreement that’s now being criminalised,” said Lokur. “If disapproval becomes a criminal offense , then it’s the top of the elemental right to freedom of speech and expression.”
Credits : Article 14 ( This research is supported by Article 14 & Thakur Foundation.
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