The Supreme Court order pausing the sedition law on Wednesday is like “light at the end of the tunnel,” said Maridevaiah S., president of Karnataka State Research Scholars’ Association. He was booked for sedition in 2020 for holding a “Free Kashmir” placard at a rally against the Anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, in Mysuru.
“The Mysore Bar Association resolved not to represent me. I did not even find lawyers. It is a colonial law that should have been off the statute books long ago, but was misused to muzzle voices of dissent. We hope the draconian law is not just paused, but struck down,” Mr. Maridevaiah said.
Many like him, charged with sedition and who have gone through the ordeal of jail and the Herculean task of getting a bail, are a relieved lot.
As per the National Crime Records Bureau report, Karnataka registered the highest number of sedition cases in the country — 22 — in 2019.
Meanwhile, the sedition database put together by Article 14, a collective working on civil rights, said Karnataka registered 53 cases in 11 years, from 2010 to 2021, the fifth highest in the country, but convicted none. That has now gone up to 55. The Article 14 database also records that the State registered 20 sedition cases over social media posts.
Karnataka has seen sedition booked for “offences” such as a placard held, a slogan raised at a rally, a song sung by Kashmiri students in Hubballi, a play enacted by children at a school in Bidar, bursting crackers when India lost a match, for social media posts, and so on.
Former Chief Ministers have been booked for sedition for a protest in front of Income Tax office over alleged partiality of the department’s action. A former Minister was booked for his statement that there would be unrest in the State if the NRC-CAA were implemented.
Leading lawyers who have represented the accused persons in sedition cases have welcomed the Supreme Court decision.
Senior advocate B.T. Venkatesh said this was one of the best decisions of the SC in recent times. “There are over 13,000 pending cases with several people in prisons on flimsy grounds. The colonial law of sedition is in direct confrontation with freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution. In any democracy with freedom of expression, there is no place for sedition and even criminal defamation. They have to go,” he said.
Another senior advocate S. Balan welcoming the decision hoped the law would be struck down soon. “I hope the SC next reviews Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, which is as draconian as sedition and misused to target minorities, Dalits, Adivasis, and other marginalised groups. UAPA is incompatible with the Constitution that guarantees basic rights to every citizen,” he said.