A Constitution Unbound: Sedition, Free Speech, and Indian Democracy

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In the recently published book, “A Constitution to Keep: Sedition and Free Speech in Modern India,” Supreme Court lawyer Rohan J Alva boldly advocates for the abolition of the sedition law in India, emphasizing that safeguarding democracy is the paramount justification for unleashing the full potential of freedom of speech. Alva’s comprehensive analysis aims to demystify the contentious law of sedition for the general public and shed light on its crucial aspects.

The law of sedition, a relic from the colonial era, has long been a subject of controversy and fascination. It stands uniquely intertwined with India’s struggle for independence, making it a matter of profound significance. Alva argues that allowing sedition to persist as a constant threat to the Indian people equates to delivering a fatal blow to political speech and, consequently, the very essence of Indian democracy. He contends that the survival of Indian democracy rests on discarding the sedition law and unleashing the full potential of freedom of speech.

Through his book, Alva endeavors to empower readers with a deep understanding of the stakes involved and foster an appreciation for the enduring importance of free speech rights in preserving and advancing Indian democracy. The book aspires to reinforce the notion that India’s freedom lies in its citizens’ right to express their opinions, and realizing this promise should be the central message for all.

Swati Chopra, associate publisher at HarperCollins India, highlights the anachronistic nature of the sedition law, which was employed to stifle the voice of the people during colonial rule. She believes that this law should have been abolished when India gained independence. However, due to legal, political, and historical complexities, the law on sedition continues to exist. Alva delves into these complexities, providing a comprehensive exploration and explanation of their origins and implications.

Alva passionately asserts that suppressing the voices of the people using the tool of sedition is a constitutional sin. Each day that sedition remains on the statute book represents a day when freedom of speech, expression, and ultimately the state of Indian democracy suffer an unconstitutional blow.

The sedition law, enshrined in Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, was born out of the British imperial regime’s desire to quell dissent. Although the Indian Constitution initially did away with this repressive legislation, subsequent events, including a constitutional amendment, revived the sedition law. However, in a momentous move, the Supreme Court suspended Section 124A in the summer of 2022, raising pertinent questions about the necessity of such a law in modern India.

“A Constitution Unbound: Sedition, Free Speech, and Indian Democracy” confronts the contentious issue of the sedition law head-on, urging readers to critically evaluate its impact on democracy. Alva’s book serves as a reminder that the true promise of India’s freedom lies in the unrestricted right to free speech, and the urgent realization of this promise is vital for the progress and preservation of Indian democracy.

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