Why is the Opposition silent on the proposed bill that will transform criminal justice system in the country?

During the recently concluded monsoon session in the Parliament, the Modi government introduced a bill that will repeal the offense of sedition which was a part of the criminal justice system made by the British since 1870. While introducing this bill, union home minister Amit Shah expressed belief that the new laws that will come into forcewill completely transform the criminal justice system. For the last 9 years, journalists, the think-tank including certain celebrities have always kept complaining how freedom of expression was curbed by the Modi government. But now, after the introduction of this bill, the entire world seems to have gone on a silent mode. Against this backdrop, it is necessary to discuss how the opponents of the Bharatiya Janata Party have always politically misused sensitive issues like freedom of expression and sedition according to their ideological convenience. But before we delve any further, let us understand the provisions made in this bill by union home minister Amit Shah.

After the bill is passed in the Parliament, the Indian Penal Code 1860 will be renamed as the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) 2023. The Indian Penal Code had 511 sections while the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita has 356 sections. 175 sections of the IPC have been amended and 8 new sections have been added. The CRPC (Criminal Procedure Code) has been renamed as Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) and it will have 533 sections. 160 sections of the old Act have been amended; 9 new sections have been added while 9 other sections have been repealed. The biggest provision, however, is that the accused can be tried even if he/she is absconding. According to this provision, financial criminals like Nirav Modi, Vijay Mallya and criminals like Dawood can be tried even in their absence and they can also be sentenced. Also, the 'Evidence Act, 1872' will be replaced by the 'Bharatiya Sakhshya Bill, 2023'. A long pending need to amend this Act will be achieved by this Bill.

In this digital age, evidence can exist in electronic format as well. This electronic evidence wasn't considered valid in the earlier Evidence Act of 1872. But the new Bharatiya Sakhshya Bill, 2023 has taken steps to admit electronic evidence as valid. In cases where the punishment is seven years or more, it will be mandatory for the forensic team to visit the crime scene. Also, in cases of sexual violence, it will be mandatory to video record the victim's statement. In short, digital proof whether on SMS or email or any other digital platform will be accepted.

Now let us look at the provisions of the Sedition Law which has now become the subject of interest. Section-124 (a) of the IPC defined the act of sedition. Similarly, the proposed Section 150 of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023 also provides a statutory definition of sedition. The only difference in both these definitions is that the word ‘sedition’ has been omitted. According to the new definition, "Whoever intentionally, systematically, by words spoken or written for online or financial means takes part in armed rebellion against the country or by encouraging such acts endangers the sovereignty, unity and integrity of the nation, shall be liable to life imprisonment."

According to the new definition, even if the central government refrained from using the word ‘sedition’, it still entails that any person or force that indulges in anti-national activities or commits treason against the country will be punished. The government has specified every single anti-national activity separately. For the last 9 years, people have always accused Modi government for stifling with freedom of expression. Eminent personalities including writers and intellectuals even went to the extent of launching a ‘puraskar vapasi’ (returning the awards conferred) campaign and raised an alarm on how freedom of expression was thrown out of the window during his tenure. But these people conveniently forgot the incidents that took place during the 30-years tenure of Congress’s government from 1947 to 1977.

“Aman ka jhandaa is dharti pe

kisne kaha lahrane na paaye

ye bhi koi Hitler ka hai chela,

maar le saathi,jaane na paye!

Commonwealth ka das hai Nehru

maar le saathi jaane na paye

(Who said you can’t wave the flag of peace on this earth? He is also Hitler’s disciple, take him by the collar lest he gets away! Nehru is the Commonwealth’s slave; take him by the collar lest he gets away!)

Renowned lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri had criticized the then Prime Minister Pandit Nehru through this poem and was sent behind bars by the then Congress government of Mumbai region.

In the last 9 years, people from across sectors have criticized and abused Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the most atrocious language through various social media platforms. But the central government, never even once, resorted to legal action against them for using such abusive language. It may be recalled that the Act of Sedition was made the biggest mockery during the tenure of Uddhav Thackeray as the chief minister. When MP Navneet Rana and her husband MLA Ravi Rana had declared that they will recite Hanuman Chalisa right outside Matoshree, the residence of Uddhav Thackeray, a case was filed against them under the Sedition Act and the couple was put behind bars for several days. At that time, the media, intellectuals and writers from Maharashtra refrained from uttering a word against Uddhav Thackeray. But when members of the Naxalite forces were arrested for the Bhima Koregaon violence, this congregation poured their heart out and expressed how freedom of expression was being abused. Why was this congregation silent when action was being taken against Rana couple? Wasn’t this an attempt to use sedition law as per their convenience?



Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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