People have come across a century-old media report according to which Kazi Nazrul Islam, the Editor of Dhumketu daily, was arrested from Comilla (in Bangladesh) on charges of Treason. Kazi Nazrul (May 24, 1899 – August 29, 1976) was a Bengali poet, writer, musician, and the National Poet of Bangladesh. Popularly known by his nickname ‘Bidrohee Kobi’ (the Rebel Poet) after his verse, Nazrul produced a body of poetry and music with themes, which had included rebellion against oppression, among other socially relevant issues, in British India.
It may be noted that Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which deals with Sedition, was drafted by Thomas Babington Macaulay (October 25, 1800 – December 28, 1859) and included in the IPC in 1870. Macaulay, a British Historian and Whig Politician, is considered primarily responsible for introducing the Western Education System in India. The Section 124A states: “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”
In British India, the Colonial Rulers had used this Act arbitrarily to suppress the Indians, and to stifle their Freedom Struggle. Even as the Colonial Rulers left the South Asian nation in 1947, the Act still exists, and it is being noticed that there has been an upsurge in the instances in which Sedition Charges have been pressed against intellectuals, Human Rights activists, filmmakers, university teachers, students, and journalists. Film Director Aisha Sultana, Climate Activist Disha Ravi, Journalist Siddique Kappan and others, who have criticised the Government of India, have been declared Traitors in recent times. Even those, who recently celebrated Pakistan’s victory over India in the ongoing Twenty20 World Cup Cricket tournament, have been accused of treason by the Indian State! The Government of India is still using the Act as a tool to suppress the voice of Oppositions, thus safeguarding its own interests. One may consider it as the infallible legacy of Colonialism. It seems that India is yet to overcome the Colonial Hangover!
In this context, the recent observation of the Supreme Court (SC) of India is noteworthy. Describing the British-era Sedition Law as Colonial on July 15 (2021), the Apex Court questioned whether the Law was “still necessary after 75 years of Independence“. A three-judge SC Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India (CJI), N V Ramana, said that the Law is a serious threat to the functioning of institutions, and held “enormous power” for misuse with no accountability for the Executive, may well be compared to a saw in the hands of an overzealous carpenter. The SC Bench described the Law as a saw used to cut a forest instead of a piece of wood, asking the Government to drop it. “The very same Law was used by the British to silence Mahatma Gandhi and to suppress the Freedom Movement. Is the Law still necessary in the statute book in our country after 75 years of Independence? Our concern is misuse of the Law and no accountability of the Executive,” it added.
When a century-old piece of news becomes so contemporary, then it means that a great goal of Independence has not been achieved in the past 75 years. It shows that ideology of the Indian Ruling Class is still tied to the Colonial tune. Its main purpose is to suppress people’s anger, dissent, and whatever is contrary to the position of the Ruler! The Sedition Law or the Act 124A of the IPC is the weapon of that repressive policy.
The only difference is that the Colonial Rulers used to suppress the people of their colony, while the Rulers of Independent India suppress their countrymen, whose Right to Self-determination is considered the best achievement of Freedom Movement. One must remember that the integral condition of Democracy is to safeguard the citizens’ Right to Expression and Free Speech. Unfortunately, the Rulers of Independent India, like their Colonial predecessors, are reluctant to recognise this Right. It cannot be a good piece of news for the world’s Largest Democracy. It is important to find the root of this sort of mentality that does not change in 100 years!
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