Colonial Legacy of Section 124A and Naxalism

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The colonial legacy of countries under imperial rule is a much talked about phenomenon. The shadow of the legacy is paramount in the political, social, cultural, legal aspects of the colonised even long after liberation. The question to ponder is how far the changed circumstances allow the dictates of the past introduced by the colonisers to govern even in the present scenario. India is no aberration. It has been carrying the baggage of colonialism despite the incompatibility between the past and the present. It is therefore not surprising that this inconsistency has consequently given rise to issues which are complex and concerning. This article makes an attempt to highlight this issue in the context of India’s legal framework much of which is the design of the colonial masters with the sole objective to rule. The article takes up the study of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which deals with Sedition. However, the particular section would be studied in the backdrop of the country’s one of the most grappling issue of Left Wing Extremism (LWE).

One of the sections of the IPC, Section 124A deals with an issue having both serious and wide ranging implications. It was introduced in 1870 at the peak of colonial rule decades after grappling with India’s Revolt of 1856. So what does this Section talk about? “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to brings into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government estab­lished by law in India, shall be punished with  [im­prisonment for life], to which fine may be added, or with impris­onment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine. Explanation 1.—the expression “disaffection” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity. Explanation 2.—Comments expressing 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, do not constitute an offence under this section. Explanation 3.—Comments expressing disapprobation of the admin­istrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.” The law specifically states that any attempt to challenge the existing rule established by the lawful government of the country is undisputed. This is necessary to uphold the rule of law and establish a society with the least possible chaos within the given framework. The discrepancy does not figure here. It arises when the question of its application comes to the fore.

The aforesaid Section was introduced by the British government in India to deal with people who protested against the domination of foreign rule. The people in question were the freedom fighters who were fighting for the country’s independence. So what was independence for the countrymen appeared to be seditious for the foreign rule which is but natural, if one sees from a coloniser’s perspective. However, the question that needs to be dealt with is what happens when the same law is held against one’s own citizens for logic similar to the one stated. How is fight against a foreign rule for independence similar to voicing protest or criticising one’s government? The only plausible answer that appears acceptable is the fact that in both the cases it is the ruler against which the fight is waged irrespective of the whether the ruler is one of your own democratically elected by you based on the laws of the people or some outsider with the intention to occupy power in a foreign land. The character of the ruler, thus, remains unchanged. Strange but true!

LWE or more popularly Naxalism in India is declared to be the biggest internal security threat of the country. It began in the late 1960’s in Siliguri subdivision of the Naxalbari village in West Bengal under the radical leadership of Charu Majumder and Kanu Sanyal. Although the movement lost its initial hype with the then West Bengal Government under the Chief Ministership of Siddhartha Shankar Ray applying all possible means to crush the movement it has gradually spread its tentacles over the area labelled as “Red Corridor” by the Indian Government. This area spans around West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. With the growing support though at a miniscule level (the armed cadres of the Naxals are estimated to be around 8500) one is bound to ponder over their support base which majorly comprises the tribals.

Thus instead of analysing over why the Naxals are today what they are the government is imposing laws which are not only archaic but one which fails to address the real issue thereby making the threat perspective much more serious and complex. The reason for applying the afore-mentioned section on cases related to naxalism apart from others is the fact that the war is waged to unsettle the existing government legally established. Technically speaking this proposition isn’t false. However, one needs to keep in mind that these people are not belligerents. They are our own people dissatisfied and discontent over the present scheme of things. Applying the same law over issues which apparently looks similar but have deeply entrenched contrasts could have provided the much needed oxygen for the movement to survive for so long against a heavily armed state. Instead of addressing the root cause that led to the rise of the movement in the first place the state has indirectly ensured the survival of it by wrongly dealing with the issue.

As an improved stance state has changed its original version of the LWE as a law and order problem and accepted the fact that something is seriously wrong with the way that the state has handled the tribal issue for so long depriving them of the basic rights of livelihood and habitation. With the introduction of economic reforms in the 1990’s state has got renewed interest to get itself involve in areas rich in mineral resources and that without surprise is the area earmarked as the “Red Corridor”. Taking away the wealth for commercial purposes without acknowledging the rights of the tribal’s state is as much responsible for the menace called LWE as any other group. By absolving oneself of the responsibility towards its citizens the state wants to establish its authority by muzzling all sorts of dissent that wishes to raise its head. And what better way than applying laws which are outdated and was introduced for the sole purpose to rule. Section 124A needs serious modifications specially when it comes to dealing with issues which are so delicate and has serious consequences in future.

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