NCRB data shows why sedition must go.
Cases recorded as offences against the state in the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB’s) latest Crime in India Statistics report (for 2017)—such offences were separately recorded by NCRB only since 2014—saw a jump of 23%, from 6,986 cases registered in 2016 to 9,013 registered in 2016. Of the cases under offences against the state reported for 2017, 51 are sedition cases, 24 are cases related to imputations and assertions prejudicial to national integration—these would come under Section 121-123 of the IPC, which would cover offences such as questioning a community’s allegiance to the nation—and 901 cases were registered under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. To put the import of the UAPA Act in perspective, lawyer-activist Sudha Bharadwaj, activist Gautam Bharadwaj and others accused of playing a role in the Bhima-Koregaon violence face charges under the Act that doesn’t allow for bail, and Bharadwaj has been in jail for over a year now without trial.
In 2014, NCRB had reported a total of 47 cases of sedition, and 58 people were arrested. In 2015 and 2016, the corresponding figures were 30 cases and 73 arrests, and 35 cases and 48 arrests, respectively—61 of the total sedition cases were still being investigated at the close of 2016, and roughly a third of the cases had been closed even before they reached the trial stage. In 2017, conviction was awarded in just one case of sedition. This shows how trigger-happy the government has been with the law that is a remnant of the colonial era and has no place in a modern democracy that allows space for dissent.
A new class of “crimes by anti-national elements”, where anti-national elements are broadly understood to be left-wing extremists, insurgents from the North East, and terrorists, including ‘jihadi’ terrorists, has been created against a backdrop of ready branding of those voicing dissenting against the government at the Centre, and even majoritarian ideological positions, as anti-national. While anti-national elements committed a total of 1,450 crimes under various sections of the IPC and special local laws (SLL) in 2017, the total number of IPC and SLL crimes in 2017 was a little over 50 lakh. Amongst the things (excluding 1,845 pieces of arms) seized from anti-nationals were 242 units of ‘literature’, and 222 mobiles from a total of 1,146 items seized.
While the home minister has talked of the need to overhaul the IPC, to get rid of its “master and servant” spirit, given the IPC was meant to “maintain the stability of the British empire”, if individuals keep getting slapped with sedition charges, it is hard to see such an intent finding fruition. Indeed, in a reply, in July this year, in the Rajya Sabha, the home ministry said “There is no proposal to scrap the sedition law. There is a need to retain the provision to effectively combat anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements.”