S Dharmadhikari quotes landmark SC judgment to say words alone cannot amount to sedition

| Mumbai Mirror Bureau

Referring to a recent incident in which a young woman was caught chanting “Pakistan zindabad”, and later “Hindustan zindabad”, in Bangalore, former Bombay High Court judge Justice Satyaranjan Dharmadhikari quoted a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court from 1995 to say these words in isolation cannot amount to sedition.

“By itself zindabad-murdabad the concomitant [associated ingredients] absent, does not amount to sedition, the Supreme Court says,” the former judge said addressing students and lawyers on the topic of ‘Free Speech and Sedition’, at the 5th annual Dr TK Tope Memorial Lecture, organised by the Government Law College’s Vinatadevi Tope Social Service League.

Explaining what would amount to sedition, Dharmadhikari said: “If there is reasonable restriction and the right itself is not absolute, then we cannot say that every time we exercise this right that we are going to be proceeded against. It can happen only when it is against the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State public order or incitement of an offence.”

Urging students to have faith in the judicial system, Dharmadhikari quoted from a 1995 SC judgment in a case in which two people were charged with sedition for raising pro-Khalistan slogans, in the aftermath of former prime minister Indira Gandhi assassination. He said the SC had clearly held that “the raising of some slogans only a couple of times by the two lonesome appellants” could not attract Sections 124A (sedition) or 153A (wanton vilification or attacks upon religion, race) of the IPC.

“Somebody says something zindabad, something murdabad, nobody accompanies them, nobody is shouting with them,” the judge said.

Amulya Leona Noronha, a student of NMKRV College for Women, raised pro-Pakistan slogans at an anti-CAA protest in Bangalore earlier this month, during AIMIM chief and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi’s rally, which led the city police to file a case of sedition against her.

Dharmadhikari said there were enough safeguards provided by the law, and that once a law had been interpreted by the courts then that would make it true law. “You have nothing to fear. So long as you protest by lawful means with lawful ends, you are not in contempt of the law,” he said.

The judge further said that even when using contempt of court, judges are very cautious. “The SC has been so responsible, it says use the power of contempt carefully, in exceptional circumstances to uphold the majesty of law and the dignity of the court, not to punish someone for his critical comments.

“We should not presume that every policeman, everybody in power will punish us if we criticise them. No one will come and pick you up from campus. You have the freedom of speech. But remember, the liberty to swing your hands ends where my nose begins,” he said.