crime statistics

Sedition in India: Only two of 112 cases registered between 2014 and 2016 resulted in convictions

‘The primary reason for the abysmally low conviction rate for sedition cases is that the law is misapplied,’ said senior advocate Sanjay Hegde.

The Indian police registered 112 cases of sedition across the country between 2014 and 2016, but only two have led to convictions, according to a report released by the National Crime Records Bureau on Thursday and a government statement in Parliament last year.

The National Crime Records Bureau’s annual Crime in India report, the country’s only official record of crimes, showed that 35 cases of sedition were registered in 2016. Haryana topped the list with 12 cases, most of them were linked to the agitation by Jats in that state in February 2016 for reservations in educational institutions and government jobs.

Delhi accounted for two cases. The first relates to the February 9, 2016, incident in Jawaharlal Nehru University, which led to the arrest of student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar and two others in connection with an event commemorating the death anniversary of 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. The second case pertained to a meeting at the Press Club of India in Delhi on the following day, February 10, at which anti-Indian slogans were allegedly chanted. The event’s convenor, Delhi University professor SAR Gilani, was charged with sedition.

Thirty cases of sedition were reported in 2015 and 47 the previous year. In 2014, the National Crime Records Bureau, for the first time began to divide the chapter on offences against the state into specific categories, including sedition.

Act of harassment

While the Bureau report for 2014 does not mention how many sedition cases were chargesheeted that year in preparation for being placed before the courts, as many as six cases reached the chargesheet stage in 2015, and 16 did in 2016. A chargesheet refers to a document of accusations prepared by the police, after a First Information Report about an alleged offence has been registered.

Even if it is assumed that all the 22 cases of sedition chargesheeted by the police in 2015 and 2016 were registered in those two years itself, the rate of disposal of such cases by the police would be very low. At best, it would roughly mean that one out of three sedition cases registered in that period were chargesheeted by the police in the same period.

This works to the disadvantage of the defendant, said senior lawyers. The longer a case takes to reach court, the greater the scope for the authorities to harass the defendant, they said.

“The primary reason for the abysmally low conviction rate for sedition cases is that the law is misapplied,” said senior advocate Sanjay Hegde. “While the provision of sedition can only be applied under extraordinary circumstances, accompanied by sanctions from relevant authorities, practically it has become a tool of harassment.”

In most cases, the idea of the authorities is to book and arrest the person without thinking of the course of action, he said. He added that ultimately these cases do not stand in a court of law.

In 2016, six sedition cases were dropped by the police for the lack of evidence and two were termed as false cases in final reports, the Bureau report said.

Cases crumble in court

The trials in four sedition cases were completed in 2015, with all of them leading to acquittals. In the three sedition cases for which trials were completed in 2016, one ended in a conviction and two in acquittals, said the report. All other chargesheeted cases are pending trial.

The last conviction was recorded in 2014, the government told the Lok Sabha in March last year. In 2014, the National Crime Records Bureau had not yet started publishing data on the disposal of sedition cases by the police and courts.

Sedition is dealt with under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, and punishment could extend to life imprisonment. The section describes an offender as anyone who by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection, towards the government established by the law India. It, however, exempts comments expressing disapprobation of measures or administrative actions of the government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection. It even defines the expression disaffection as an act that includes disloyalty and feelings of enmity.

However, the interpretation of the law by India’s law enforcement agencies has been controversial. Civil right activists have said that the application of the sedition law in several cases was excessive. The questions revolving around sedition have been dealt with by the Supreme Court several times.

“One must understand that only an act of violence committed to overthrow the government qualifies as a case of sedition,” said senior advocate Prashant Bhushan. “But these days we get to see people getting charged with sedition for comments on social media and even celebrations after cricket matches. Such cases, which are pursued more as a tool of harassment, finally stand weak in the court of law and so the conviction rate is abysmally low.”

So far, 2017 has seen some curious sedition cases. In two of them, people were booked for allegedly celebrating Pakistan’s win in a cricket match against India in June. While the charge of sedition was dropped in one of the two cases (reported in Madhya Pradesh), the chargesheet in the other case (reported in Rajasthan) is yet to be filed, police officials said.

In a recent case, an engineering student from Pune who had allegedly approached several candidates before the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections held earlier this month and offered to rig electronic voting machines for them was charged with sedition.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

Play

During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.