Sedition law: Many in Karnataka keenly await apex court judgment
Student-activist Maridevaiah, booked for sedition in 2020 over a ‘Free Kashmir’ placard held by one of the protesters at an anti-CAA agitation in Mysuru, is keenly awaiting the Supreme Court’s final decision on the validity of the sedition law.
Observations made by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana that it is a “colonial law” and that “it suppresses freedom” while hearing a petition filed by Mysuru-based activist Maj. Gen. S.G. Vombatkere (retd.), among others, has instilled hope among many. “We at the University of Mysore were the first among the State’s universities to protest against the CAA and the NRC. So I was targeted, though there are no grounds for sedition in the protest we held,” Mr. Maridevaiah said.
As per the latest National Crime Records Bureau report, Karnataka has registered the highest number of sedition cases — 22 — in 2019. The sedition database put together by Article-14, a collective working on civil rights, Karnataka has registered 53 cases between 2010 and 2021, the fifth highest among States. Most of them were reported after 2019 — 22 in 2019, 10 in 2020, and one this year. The database also indicates that 20 of the 53 cases were filed over social media posts.
Grounds for cases have varied from a placard held to a slogan raised at a protest, especially during the anti-CAA protests. The former Minister U.T. Khader was booked for sedition for his statement that there would be unrest in the State if NRC and CAA were implemented. The former Chief Ministers Siddaramaiah and H.D. Kumaraswamy were booked for sedition for protests against alleged partisan action by the Income Tax Department.
Once charged with sedition, it is an uphill task to find lawyers to represent, get bail in lower courts, and one always ends up with vilification by sections of the media, Mr. Maridevaiah said. “The Mysuru Bar Association resolved not to represent me in the court. The police station in my village was alerted of the case, leading to stigma and harassment to my family. I was lucky to get an anticipatory bail, unlike others who spent long tenures in jail,” he said.
Senior advocate B.T. Venkatesh, who has defended several booked for sedition, said though there had been clear guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court on what constitutes sedition, they are often not followed. “The apex court judgments also provide for discretion by both executive and judiciary as to what constitutes sedition. This is misused widely,” he said.
He also wondered how private persons could be complainants in sedition cases, which is an offence against the State. “Anybody can alert the State to an offence against it, but I feel only the State can decide whether it is seditious. Today anybody can give a complaint alleging sedition and the police register an FIR. Many of these complaints are politically and ideologically motivated,” he said, arguing for scrapping of the law.
The former Supreme Court judge V. Gopal Gowda opined that sedition had no place in a parliamentary democracy. Commenting on guidelines laid down by the apex court often being given a go by, he said district courts come under the administrative supervision of the High Courts, which must review and guide the lower judiciary.