Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi has been arrested and remanded to judicial custody for the alleged offence of sedition. His cartoons are being variously described in the media as "insulting" , "obscene", "ugly', "objectionable" etc. The aam aadmi is puzzled, because Aseem Trivedi's cartoons reflect the popular sentiment. If he is guilty of sedition, so are lakhs of other Indians.
Is it seditious, then, to express dis satisfaction with the corruption rampant in our democratic institutions? Is it seditious to be incensed by the conduct of our elected representatives who have reduced Parliament to an institution better known for adjournments than discussions and legislative business? Is it seditious to bemoan the erosion of that supreme value "Satyameva Jayate" ? Such would appear to be the case if one is guided by the conduct of the police authorities who have, on the basis of an FIR, arrested Aseem Trivedi although the Code of Criminal Procedure allows them under Section 157 to simply not investigate an alleged offence if it appears to them that sufficient ground for making an investigation does not exist.
What is sedition? As per the India Penal Code (section 124A), a person is guilty of sedition if by words or by signs or by visible representation, he brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India.
The Indian Penal Code clarifies that if one's comments merely express disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, or if one's comments express disapprobation of the measures of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, then one is not guilty of sedition. The dictionary defines "disapprobation " as "strong disapproval".
So, we have a situation where the law permits me to disapprove of government measures, either because I wish to simply express my disapproval or because I wish the government to pay heed and alter the measures I disapprove of. However, when I express my disapproval of government measures/action, I must be careful not to sound critical of the government, because I'd then be guilty of hatred or contempt or disaffection towards the government and hence guilty of sedition.
To give an example ---- I can say that I do not approve of coal blocks being allotted for a pittance, but I cannot say the government which has made such allocation does not deserve to remain in power ! That's a tough balancing act indeed --- to disapprove of government actions yet be respectful of it, and loyal.
Strangely enough, the Indian Penal Code does not require that a citizen be guilty of disaffection or contempt or hatred against the Indian State or the Indian Constitution to be held guilty of sedition. Hypothetically, a citizen who professes utmost respect for the values and ideals of the Constitution can be held guilty of sedition if he says that the government is guilty of violating those very ideals and values and is therefore not fit to remain in power. In fact, this is what is happening in Aseem Trivedi's case.
Probably, the reason for such a dichotomy lies in the fact that the provisions relating to sedition date back to the 1870s when the government in India was a representative of the British monarch. Therefore, an Indian citizen critical of the government was, ipso facto, critical of the Brtish monarch and his sovereign right to rule over India. We have come a long way since then. Our elected government draws its powers from the people and the Constitution that the people have given themselves. If, by its acts, the elected government is seen to violate the ideals and values of the Constitution or not live up to its promises, the citizen must have the right to criticise the government and not be thrown into prison for that. It is time that we amended the IPC and brought its provisions regarding sedition in line with the times, so that these cannot be abused to stifle freedom of expression, especially when such freedom is used to criticise the government.