Bidar: The action taken by the police against a private school in Bidar district of Karnataka must rank among the worst instances of the misuse of the sedition provision in penal law in recent times. Teams of police personnel have been visiting the Shaheen School for some days now, and they have already arrested a teacher and a parent so far, for an allegedly seditious and inflammatory play against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, in which it is claimed some remarks purportedly insulting to the Prime Minister were made. It is unbelievable that the police would waste their time in pursuing a complaint by a right-wing activist about a play performed by children between the ages of nine and 12. That primary schoolchildren are being subjected to sustained harassment with utter disregard for child-friendly laws and procedures is an egregious violation that the police seem to be committing with impunity. The arrest of a teacher who is said to have supervised the performance and the mother of a child on the allegation that she had added words to the script is particularly condemnable. It is a clear case of misuse of the power to arrest, when it is merely a verbal offence and does not require any custodial interrogation. Besides sedition under Section 124A, the provisions invoked concern insult aimed at provoking breach of peace, statements made with intent to incite people against the state and promote enmity between groups on the basis of religion. It is indeed bizarre for the police to believe that all these offences were made at a play involving a group of children.
Supreme Court observation
It was only a few days ago that a Supreme Court Bench observed that words such as ‘anti-national’ and ‘sedition’ were being bandied about loosely these days. The incident in Bidar exemplifies this trend. And it also confirms that the law is often used to silence political comment on matters deemed sensitive by the rulers. Sedition, an outdated provision which deserves no place in a modern penal code, has been invoked to portray political dissent as promotion of disaffection. Often forgotten is the fact that it cannot be invoked without the essential ingredients for invoking the section, namely, an imminent threat to public order and incitement to take up arms or resort to violence.
It is also noteworthy that the police have deemed the opposition to the citizenship law amendment as something against the state, when the section itself has an explanation that nothing that seeks to get the government to change its policy by lawful means is sedition. There must be something seriously wrong with a police system that believes that everyone who is suspected of committing an offence is to be arrested. Given the pervasive misuse of the sedition provision as well as the power to arrest, it may be time to strengthen conduct rules to provide for exemplary punishment to police personnel who violate constitutional guarantees of free speech and personal liberty in an arbitrary way.