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Case against 50 Celebrities controversy

Case against 50 Celebrities controversy

Tag:GS-3|| Security || Tackling Security Threats || Major Laws & Policies

Why in news?

  • A case of alleged sedition has been registered in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur against 49 celebrities who had penned an open letter to the PM on growing incidents of mob lynchings.

What is the charge?

  • Increasing Mob violence: Mob lynchings were on the rise as no one would be prosecuted by the perpetrators supposedly knew.
  • Open letter to PM
    • In July 2019, the open letter to the PM by the celebrities expressing their concern about the above was written.
    • They include, among others, Ramchandra Guha, Shyam Benegal, Aparna Sen, Mani Ratnam, and Adoor Gopalakrishnan.
  • Case against signatories
    • A lawyer, Sudhir Kumar Ojha, filed a petition in the Muzaffarpur Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court.
    • It took a prosecution against the signatories on the grounds of suspected sedition, public nuisance, and religious damage.
  • Court order to file FIR
    • The police registered the case under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) under the order of the court to file an FIR.
    • It includes sedition, public nuisance, hurting religious feelings, and insulting with intent to provoke breach of peace.

How has the sedition law evolved?

  • Enactment of the Law:
    • Sedition laws were enacted in England in the 17th century when politicians and lawmakers felt that only good government views should survive.
    • Bad views at that time were counterproductive to the state and the monarchy
    • This idea (and law) was borrowed from the IPC in 1870.
  • Law used against freedom fighters
    • British violated the statute of sedition in order to convict and punish fighting for freedom.
    • The statute was initially applied in 1897 to prosecute Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
  • Section 124A
    • This case led to the amendment of Section 124A of the IPC (which deals with sedition) to add the words ‘ hatred’ and’ contempt’ to’ disaffection.’
    • Sedition These were defined to include disloyalty and feelings of enmity.
  • Constituent Assembly
    • Others sought to include sedition in the Constituent Assembly twice as a basis for limiting freedom of speech.
    • However, for fear of being used to suppress political dissent, this was vehemently (and successfully) opposed.

Supreme court’s Rulings on various cases

  • In its judgment in Brij Bhushan v. Delhi and Romesh Thappar v. Madras, the Supreme Court outlined these debates in 1950.
  • Such rulings prompted an amendment to the First Constitution where Article 19(2) had been revised.
  • Accordingly, the term “undermining State security” has been replaced by the expression “in the public interest.”
  • In 1962, Section 124A in Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar was upheld by the Supreme Court.
  • The court, however, limited the application of the law to’ actions having the purpose or propensity to cause disorder or disruption of law and order or incitement to violence.’
  • Obviously, it differentiated them from “very strong language” or the highly critical use of “vigorous phrases” by the state.
  • In 1995, in Balwant Singh v Punjab State, the Supreme Court acquitted individuals of sedition charges for shouting slogans such as “Khalistan Zindabaad” and “Raj Karega Khalsa” following the assassination of Indira Gandhi.
    • Instead of looking at the “tendency” of the words to cause public disorder, the Court held that mere sloganeering that evoked no public response did not amount to sedition.

Why is the present charge a wrong precedent?

  • Disregards true meaning of the sedition law
    • In view of the above rationality, the current sedition charge is deceptive and totally disregards the true meaning of the law of sedition.
    • The law clearly distinguishes between’ strong government criticism’ and’ incitement to violence.’
  • Responsible citizens
    • The letter was written by responsible citizens who viewed the nation as a pluralist democracy.
    • Certainly, even if the letter is considered by the government to be hateful and disdainful, it is not seditious if it did not incite violence.
  • So, it is unclear how the court or the police could conclude that the contents were seditious or indicative of any other offense.
  • Clearly, they could not be branded anti-national just because they did not agree with the government in power.

 Way forward

  • Right to freedom of expression
    • India remains a democracy, and every person is entitled to write to those in government,

to the President.

  • A genuine democracy must guarantee the right to raise questions, discuss, disagree and challenge the forces on the issues facing the nation.
  • Take action against issues raised by public
    • Steps should be taken by a responsible government on the topic outlined in the report.
    • The simple pressing of charges of sedition ends up serving as a barrier to any voice of dissent or criticism which contributes to illegal self-censorship.
  • Repeal sedition law
    • It is high time to acknowledge that Section 124A’s broad scope means that the government can use it to pursue those who question its power and control.
    • The court decision thus warrants an urgent and fresh debate on the need to repeal the sedition law; the law must go, as has happened in the U.K. already.

Mains model question

  • In a letter, the eminent personalities questioned PM over rising mob lynchings in the country. Does writing an open letter to the prime minister could be called “an act of sedition” and how is it limiting freedom of speech of an individual. Critically Analyze.