“Unfortunately, of late, we have had in this country, young persons, students, stand-up comedians and the like, all being booked for freely criticising the government of the day under sedition laws which are really colonial in nature and have no place under our Constitution.”
Former Supreme Court judge Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman has said that India needs to do away with the sedition laws and allow free speech in the country.
“When you have Article 19(1)(a) being administered as it is being administered today, there is a big red signal which is put up so far as the rule of law is concerned. It is the time to completely do away with the sedition laws, allow free speech so long as ultimately it does not exhort somebody to violence”, Justice Nariman said.
The former Supreme Court judge was speaking on “Constitutional Underpinnings of the Rule of Law” at the inauguration of the D. M. Harish School of Law, Mumbai, according to LiveLaw.in.
He further argued that Article 19 of the Indian Constitution contains the difference between democracies like ours and dictatorships which are veiled as democracies. 19(1)(a) is the single most important and cherished human right, which is the right to freedom of speech and expression, he added.
“Unfortunately, of late, we have had in this country, young persons, students, stand-up comedians and the like, all being booked for freely criticising the government of the day under sedition laws which are really colonial in nature and have no place under our Constitution.
“On the other hand, you have persons giving hate speech, what is called ‘fighting words’, actually calling for the genocide of an entire people, and we find the great reluctance somehow of the authorities to book these people”, Justice Nariman commented.
Ruling party endorsing hate speeches
Justice Nariman also said, “It was heartening to note that at least a little later, the Vice President of the country in a speech said that hate speech is unconstitutional, not only is it Unconstitutional but it happens to be a criminal act. It is criminalised in sections 153A and 505(c) of the IPC. In fact, unfortunately, though in practice a person can be given up to 3 years’ imprisonment, this never happens because no minimum sentence is prescribed.
“If you really want to strengthen rule of law as contained in our Constitution, I would suggest strongly that the Parliament amend these provisions to provide a minimum sentence for the act, for it to be a deterrence for persons who make hate speeches of this kind”, he urged.
“Unfortunately, we have the other higher echelons of the ruling party not only being silent qua hate speech but otherwise endorsing them! We heard the other day from the very head of the party a juxtaposition of a Mogul emperor known for being a bigot, namely Aurangzeb, as against Shivaji who was known to be a secular leader. If, as a matter of fact, fraternity is a cardinal value in our Constitution and you want to engage persons in becoming a brotherhood, I would have thought that you should have chosen Mogul emperors such as Babar or his grandson Akbar. Akbar was famous for being perhaps the most secular ruler that any nation has ever known at any point of time and he took after his grandfather Babar”, expressed Justice Nariman
He read out a letter written by Babar to his son Humayun one year before he died, telling his son how to rule Hindustan “which he had conquered, so to speak, after the battle of Panipat”.
The letter of Babar was as follows – “Oh my son, the realm of Hindustan is full of diverse creeds…It is but proper that you, with heart cleansed with all religious bigotry, must dispense justice according to the tenets of each community, and particularly refrain from sacrifice of cow, for that is where lies the conquest of the hearts of the people of Hindustan; and the subjects of the realm will, through royal favour, be devoted to thee… And the temples and abodes of worship of every community under the imperial sway, you should not damage. Dispense justice so that the sovereign may be happy with the subjects and likewise the subjects with their sovereign. The progress of Islam is better by the sword of kindness, not by the sword of oppression”.
Continuing the speech, Justice Nariman said:
“A beautiful letter, his grandson carried all this in practice. His grandson had the famous Ibadat Khana built in 1575 where persons from all religions of the world, including the Charvaka school which is the ancient Hindu materialist school, were present and debate freely before the Emperor. The Emperor in fact greatly not only acknowledged but furthered the cause of every religious faith so much so that many religious faiths said they had exclusively somehow got to the Emperor and converted him. The Emperor came out with the Din-i-Ilahi which failed because it was very eclectic and it had no priesthood etc. But The idea was fantastic. The idea was to bring together mankind as a common group which custom has divided”.