Misuse of laws such as IPC’s sedition section is detrimental to the very social fabric of targeted communities
Being locked up for a long time without trial and without right to get reprieve in form of bail has severe percussions on the health of the accused, his family, the community and society as a whole
The Chief Justice of India has very validly pointed out the misuse of Section 124(A) of IPC which deals with the offence of sedition, adding that it was meant for the colonial era. He said that from a legal perspective, such laws violate human rights. Any such law which curtails the right to freedom of speech and right to critically analyse the events and the government’s performance amounts to negation of basic human rights as enshrined in our Constitution.
There have been several allegations of these laws having been misused and people being framed falsely. These allegations are corroborated by reports that out of 326 sedition cases filed from 2014 to 2019, only 6 resulted in a conviction.
Besides the legal perspective, what does not get much space in the public discussion is that the blatant misuse of such laws is also detrimental to physical and mental wellbeing of not only the accused but his/her family too. It is only after Father Stan Swamy’s death in custody that this issue got flagged in India, though it has been widely acknowledged globally.
In the Indian context, it poses an even more serious question because here it is the vulnerable sections of the society who are at the receiving end, including minorities, rights activists, those working for the uplift of tribals, Adivasis, the Dalits and women, who are being framed under such laws. Even the farmers protesting for their demands are being framed under such laws.
The Indian Penal Code has sufficient provisions to charge a person for any crime even when it concerns the integrity and sovereignty of the nation. Being locked up under a colonial law for a long time without trial and without the right to get reprieve in the form of bail has severe percussions on the health of the accused, his family, the community and society as a whole.
The arrest of a person, particularly if he/she is the bread earner, pushes the family into sudden economic crisis which affects their basic needs for food, nutrition, health and education. Many a time, the children and the elderly also have to go hungry as the family has to spent huge amount of money on litigation which further pauperizes them. Children in the growing age suffer from malnutrition which impacts their entire life.
Women in our families sacrifice their food for the family in general and for children in particular, and may thus end up with nutritional deficiency disorders. Needless to mention, the person put behind bars is denied a healthy diet in the prison.
Until his/her acquittal, the whole family faces social stigma to such an extent that family members may find it difficult to get job of their liking or even a suitable rental accommodation. Children face humiliation in the school, affecting their psychological makeup. Many of them are likely to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A child who should have grown with love and compassion now grows up with contempt and hatred.
Many cases imposed on the members of a community or a group are meant to frighten them to keep shut or face the consequences of being framed in false cases. The paranoia this creates has serious consequences. Affected people can develop violent reactions. The hapless accused in many cases develop suicidal tendencies out of the frustration of having been falsely implicated.
It is therefore imperative that a transparent legal system be adopted to check misuse of such laws, if not immediately revoked.
The World Medical Association and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War had condemned arrest of members of central council of the Turkish Medical Association when they issued a declaration titled “War is a popular health issue” in opposition to the Afrin operation. The government had charged them with “making a terrorist organisation’s propaganda” and “inciting the people to hatred and enmity” on account of the peace declaration.
In India, we have the example of Dr Kafeel Khan who was arrested for flagging the issue of oxygen shortage in the government hospital in Gorakhpur which had led to death of children.
Medical personnel who are custodians of health of the people have to raise their voice vociferously against misuse of such laws so as to protect and promote their health.
Views are personal