A Supreme Court Bench of Justice Dipak Misra on Monday quoted a judgment delivered 54 years ago to say, “Someone's statement criticising the government does not invoke an offence of sedition or defamation.”
On May 26, 1953, Kedar Nath Singh told villagers at Barauni in Bihar that if they can drive out the Britishers, they should “strike and turn out the Congress goondas”.
“These Congress goondas are banking upon the American dollars and imposing various kinds of taxes on the people today. The blood of our brothers — mazdoors and kishans is being sucked,” a Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice of India B.P. Sinha reproduced Nath's words in their historic judgment of 1962.
The Bench dismissed the sedition case against Nath. The 1962 verdict became a defining point for free speech and a blow to the government’s power to muzzle free speech and criticism invoking the draconian colonial law of Section 124 A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code of 1870.
The Supreme Court held that only a “violent revolution” against the government attracts the charge of sedition.” A free expression of disapprobation against the ruling government's action with an intention to better the condition of the people is not treason, it had held.
Justice Mishra said every word of the Constitution Bench still holds true. Nothing has changed, nothing should, he said.
Instead of Nath, NGO Common Cause arraigned a number of people — the list is long as well as varied — from Booker Prize winning author Arundhati Roy to Kudankulam anti-nuclear activist Dr. S.P. Udayakumar to folk singer S. Kovan to Dr. Binayak Sen to JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar to even two Karnataka policemen booked for sedition for asking for better wages.
Arguing for Common Cause and Dr. Udayakumar, civil rights lawyer Prashant Bhushan said sedition has become the government's choice weapon to choke dissent. The petition wanted the Supreme Court to step in again, this time to revive the spirit of the 1962 judgment. It wanted the apex court to reiterate that sedition actually means “incitement to violence or tendency or the intention to create public disorder” and not “strong criticism”.
It had even asked the court to direct the police to chalk out the reasons before arresting a person for a “seditious act”.