on Wednesday (May 11) Supreme Court stayed All pending trials, appeals and proceedings relating to Section 124Awhich is related to the charge of rebellionUntil the central government completes its exercise to review the colonial era provision.
The court is hearing a batch of petitions to scrap the law, which was used by the British against several leaders of India’s freedom struggle. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal on Tuesday referred to the statements of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru on Section 124A and said that they wanted the provision to be scrapped.
What were some of the main sedition cases filed by the colonial government against nationalist leaders, and what did they say about the law?
Bal Gangadhar Tilak
Lokmanya was tried thrice for sedition and went to jail twice.
In 1897, he was charged with sedition for trying to incite and agitate feelings of dissatisfaction with the government by the publication of some articles in (his newspaper) the issue of Kesari of 15 June 1897.
The government also claimed that a speech given by Tilak, in which he referred to the assassination of the Adilshahi general Afzal Khan by Shivaji in 1659, had incited the assassination of Poona’s plague commissioner Walter Rand by the revolutionary Chapekar brothers in 1897. ,
In April 1908, teenage revolutionaries Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki accidentally killed two European women. Muzaffarpur In a bomb attack targeting British Magistrate Douglas Kingsford. Chaki shot himself before being arrested; Bose was arrested and hanged. Tilak strongly defended the revolutionaries at Kesari and was immediately arrested on charges of sedition.
In July of the same year, Tilak was accused of “bringing feelings of hatred and contempt, and exciting betrayal and enmity towards His Majesty and the government” through his writings in Kesari.
He wrote, “There is no doubt that this will inspire many people with hatred against those belonging to the party of rebels. It is not possible to banish British rule from this country by such monstrous acts. But unrestricted power.” The rulers who exercise the power must always remember that there is a limit to the patience of humanity.”
Tilak refused a lawyer and decided to present his case. During his defense he hit hard on the charge of treason. He argued that as a British subject he was entitled to certain legal rights, such as freedom of expression, which he was being denied. “The issue is whether I was within my rights, and whether a subject of Her Majesty in India could or could not enjoy the same freedoms enjoyed by the British subjects at home and here by the Anglo-Indians,” He told the court.
He said the prosecution has been unable to prove that his writings contained criminal intent or that criminal intent was capable of affecting society at large. Tilak was found guilty and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment with transportation.
In March 1922, Gandhi was charged with sedition for writing three articles in his weekly magazine Young India. The owner of the newspaper, Shankarlal Banker, has also been charged under Section 124A of the IPC.
Instead of being acquitted of the charge of spreading discontent (sedition), Gandhi declared that since he had no attachment to the colonial government, it was his moral duty to disobey unjust laws. Sibal recalled that Gandhi had described Section 124A as a “prince among political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberties of the citizen”.
Gandhi also said, “Affection cannot be created or regulated by law. If one has no attachment to any person or system, he should be free to express his displeasure fully, when as long as it does not contemplate, promote or incite violence. But the section under which Mr. Banker and I have been charged is the section under which it is an offense to merely promote dissent. Have studied some cases (Section 124A) and I know that some of India’s most loved patriots have been convicted under it. Therefore, I consider it a privilege, to be charged under that section.”
Therefore, Gandhi reversed the moral and political association of treason, declaring that the spread of discontent against an immoral government was necessary for those who considered themselves to be nationalists.
Gandhi wrote in his article ‘Timping on Loyalty’, published in 1921, “…sedition has become the creed of the Congress. Each non-cooperation pledges to preach non-cooperation towards the government established by law. Non-cooperation, though a religious one. And a strictly moral movement, deliberately aiming to overthrow the government, and is therefore legally seditious in the context of the Indian Penal Code.
Jawahar Lal Nehru
Nehru was accused of sedition in 1930. Like Gandhi, he too did not defend himself in court and pleaded guilty to Section 124A. He told the magistrate: “There can be no compromise between freedom and slavery, and between truth and falsehood. We realized that the price of freedom is blood and pain – the blood of our own countrymen and the suffering of the elite in the country – and that price we will fully pay…” (Quoted in Chitranshul Sinha: ‘The Great Daman: The Story of Sedition’) ‘In India’, Penguin Viking, 2019)
Despite being used by the colonial state to target nationalist leaders, the sedition law continued to exist in independent India. However, Nehru understood the problems with it, and told Parliament that “the sooner we get rid of it the better”.
During the debate on the First Amendment, which imposed “reasonable restrictions” on the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a), he said: “Take section 124A of the Indian Penal Code again. Now as far as I am concerned that particular section is highly objectionable and objectionable and it should have no place, both for practical and historical reasons, in any law which we may pass, if you so desire. We shall do so as soon as possible. Getting rid of it is better.”
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