The colonial tactic of stifling dissent

In the wake of the British departure after the partition, the colonial legacy still lives on, the remnants of which have become a noose strung around the necks of present-day detractors of the government. One of the vile offshoots of that legacy is the stifling of dissent. The British saddled the sub-continent with intrinsically biased laws which were ruthlessly employed to quash any uprising against the vulturous atrocities committed by them. To raise voice or display any dissatisfaction towards the authority was tantamount to sedition which would land the related individual in jail. Though the British managed to rip out the same law in 2010 at home, in the subcontinent, the sedition law with all its vigour is still in effect. 

To suppress any kind of criticism directed at the British policies the offence of sedition was enacted in 1870. Under section 124A of the Indian Penal code, any person who uses ‘words, signs or visible representation to excite dissatisfaction against the government can be charged with sedition and potentially be sentenced to life imprisonment.’ The proponents of the law were quite candid about their reasons for thrusting it forward. They unequivocally justified it as an instrument to restrict freedom of speech. Later on, the sole purpose of the word sedition was to terrorize the freedom fighters and halt them in their tracts. Leaders like Gandhi became its prominent victim. But, the colonizers, as existing powers, failed to understand that these measures are counterproductive. That respect is not inherent but earned through optimal policies and constructive actions. That polemical voices are paramount to having a healthy society. As expected, the instances of the crackdown on freedom fighters were moulded into a stage of protests against British imperialism. 

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As time went by, the sedition law became more stringent and its misuse remained unremitted. It took in many new provisions such as becoming a non-bailable offence and adding words like ‘disloyalty’ and ‘violence’ followed by the Newspaper Act to confiscate any printing presses that publish seditious material and Seditious Meeting Act prohibiting the meeting of more than 20 people making the law all the more gruesome. This is opposed to the universal right of freedom of speech and protest. The law has been instrumental in the post-colonial states where the space of dissent is squeezing under the weight of the condition by the given law according to which people are bound to feel affection for the state and show no dissatisfaction towards it.

Unsurprisingly, this colonial relic has been in practice on both sides of the divide, wreaking havoc as it was intended to do in the first place. Since the partition, politicians, human rights activists, poets, journalists and all those who have earned the disapprobation of the state have been charged with sedition. The law’s vague language leaves so much room for its interpreter to manoeuvre and gain leverage over the defender. To retain a law from a bygone era, when there exists no such thing as freedom of expression and the rulers were looters, in a democracy reflects a mindset submerged in neo-colonialism. It serves as a chilling reminder that even after seven decades the people of the subcontinent do not have the right to freely express their views and are having to live like vassals in a nation-state.

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