Sedition and its roots in rudeness as an offence
On March 30, the Lahore High Court annulled the offence of ‘sedition’ in the Pakistan Penal code. Embarrassingly, around the same time in India, the police registered a series of complaints in Delhi and in Ahmedabad, and also arrested several people, including owners of the printing presses involved, for posting anti-government (and specifically, anti-Modi) posters across town. The detainees were not accused of ‘sedition,’ but were booked for criminal conspiracy to cause public mischief and to deface public property. The printing press is alleged to have breached some provision of the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867.
A rose by any other name
The law that was struck down in Lahore is almost identical to India’s Section 124A, which seeks to criminalise words that bring “into hatred or contempt, or excite disaffection” towards the government established by law. In India, too, a challenge is pending before the Supreme Court. The law is in abeyance, although not formally struck down. Yet, the logic of the law of sedition, which demands reverence to established ideas and to those who espouse them, survives. Pakistan has a thriving practice in the use of the law of blasphemy, exercised usually on its poorest citizens. India, which is secular and does not criminalise blasphemy, has a near approximation in the “hurting of sentiments.” The state recently arrested actor Chetan Kumar and remanded him to 14 days in judicial custody, before granting him bail and threatening to revoke his overseas citizenship, for his tweet on Hindutva. It would seem that while constitutional courts are examining the validity of the law of sedition, its defining logic has already leaped forward and transplanted itself into several different provisions of law that criminalise speech.
Socially, we have always understood badtameezi (rudeness) not so much in terms of the contents of speech, but rather more in terms of who spoke and to whom. An older person could have been railing at a sullen teenager but the badtameezi occurs only when the teenager answers back. At my old-fashioned school in Patna, answering back was amongst the gravest of sins. This understanding of ill-mannered or offensive speech applies in the same hierarchical way to all manner of social relationships. It’s always the security guard at the gated apartments, the domestic worker, or the street vendor who is badtameez. [A book called Dancing to the Precipice suggests that the French had recognised this understanding of badtameezi as being contributory to inequality of status. After the French Revolution, the more polite form of ‘you’, which is vous (aap) was proscribed. It became obligatory to use tu (tum), since it was believed that it would lead to more fraternity, and consequently to more equality.]
Of course, modernity and capitalism have long been imagined to break such hierarchies. We might imagine that badtameezi in fact flourishes in our commercially driven TV studios. I would argue though that while that may be true in form, it is not true in substance (like much of capitalism’s ostensible challenge to social hierarchies). These debates, in fact, reinforce social and political power.
The state (through its officials) has appropriated for itself a station quite at the top in the hierarchy of social positions. Thus, the lowest state functionary addresses the citizen in the most commanding voice, as if that were the natural order of things. In edgy encounters between citizen and state authority, who would ever imagine the shoving-commanding post-colonial policeman as disruptive, or describe him as badtameez? Law-and-order issues arise only when the policeman is challenged — when the citizen heckles the policeman, or bangs at the barricades — but never in the policeman’s own arbitrary commands to the citizenry.
In present times, this relationship of power and its attendant courtesies (of normalisation, of endorsement) is more explicitly extended to political power, and to all the ideas that such power supports. The use of law, unless checked by the constitutional courts, often tends to mirror these social-political relations of power. It is increasingly mirroring it now.
The practice of prosecuting speech offences borrows from an understanding that ‘offensive or disruptive speech’ emanates from those who are either inferior in established social/political hierarchies, or outsiders to the reigning narrative of the time. Consequently, offences are framed mostly against those who challenge political or social power and its attendant narratives. Theoretically, anybody may be prosecuted for defacement of public property, irrespective of the contents of the graffiti. In the event, prosecution usually follows the logic of badtameezi, or sedition, focusing mostly on content.
We have always had a problem of entrenched hierarchical relations, most prominently in the form of caste. Our understanding of violence (and sexual violence) is mediated by this understanding. But for those hierarchies to be now reflected in law, in a way that speech is made prosecutable depending on whom it targets, points to the entangled relationship of law and society. What else would explain the variance in the political and legal perception of certain statements as defamatory, while others form popular political sense and continue unmediated: all terrorists are Muslim; all beneficiaries of reservations lazy. We often see prosecutors vociferously attacking certain speech as grave and damaging to someone’s reputation while tolerating other violent speech as innocuous. Of course, the courts do not always endorse the prosecutors’ views, and sometimes even call out the power play.
Mutating logic of sedition
The Supreme Court pronounced judgment in the Media One case, which addresses the logic of sedition (and of badtameezi). It struck down the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s decision to not renew the broadcast licence for the channel on grounds that their programming was ‘anti-establishment’, and was a threat to national security. The Court said that “the critical views of the channel, Media One, on policies of the government cannot be termed anti-establishment. The use of such a terminology in itself represents an expectation that the press must support the establishment. The action of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting by denying security clearance to a media channel on the basis of the views with the channel is constitutionally entitled to hold produces a chilling effect on freedom of speech, and in particularly on press freedom.” And further, that “the restriction on the freedom of the press compels citizens to think along the same tangent. A homogenised view on issues that range from socio-economic policy to political ideologies would pose grave dangers to democracy.” The Court specifically decried the cavalier manner in which the state uses ‘national security’ as a catch phrase to censor speech. “The state is using national security as a tool to deny citizens remedies that are provided under the law. This is not compatible with the rule of law […] we also hold that national security claims cannot be made out of thin air.” The judgment speaks to the mutating, resettling logic of the law of sedition. In that sense, it is even more important than a mere striking down of Section 124A. Only if it is a continued engagement, of course.
While the courts are examining the validity of the law of sedition, its defining logic has already transplanted itself into several different provisions of law that criminalise speech.
Facts about the News
- Sedition laws were enacted in 17th century England when lawmakers believed that only good opinions of the government should survive, as bad opinions were detrimental to the government and monarchy.
- The law was originally drafted in 1837 by Thomas Macaulay, the British historian-politician, but was inexplicably omitted when the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was enacted in 1860.
- Section 124A was inserted in 1870 by an amendment introduced by James Stephen when it felt the need for a specific section to deal with the offence.
- Today the Sedition is a crime under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Sedition Law Today:
Section 124A IPC:
- It defines sedition as an offence committed when “any person by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India”.
- Disaffection includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity. However, comments without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, will not constitute an offence under this section.
Punishment for the Offense of Sedition:
- It is a non-bailable offence. Punishment under Section 124A ranges from imprisonment up to three years to a life term, to which a fine may be added.
- A person charged under this law is barred from a government job.
They have to live without their passport and must appear in court at all times as and when required.
A fountainhead of the people’s hopes and aspirations
In its 75th year of Independence, India is set to witness a historic moment with the inauguration of the new Parliament House on May 28. After using a Parliament building that is nearly a century old and symbolised a colonial era, we finally have a new structure in independent India. It reflects the vision and aspirations of a country that has evolved significantly since 1947. Some people may be misled by the idea that this is a new Parliament set up. But the new building will be another extension of the existing Parliament complex to signify the spirit of change and continuity; the journey of our Parliament from what it was yesterday to what it would be in the future. The old building gave direction to independent India, while the new one will witness the making of India as ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’.
Challenges of Parliament House
The main Parliament House, inaugurated in 1927, consists of the circular-shaped structure which is visible from the outside. Two more floors were added to this building in 1956 to accommodate more staff and other offices. The need for yet more office space led to the construction of the Parliament Annexe in 1975. In 2002, the Parliament Library was added to the complex. For similar reasons, an extension of the Parliament Annexe was constructed in 2016. Despite these new constructions in the Parliament complex to suit administrative needs, the need for modern facilities in the main Parliament House remained unfulfilled.
Apart from the shortage of space inside the Parliament House, there were several other challenges. The existing Parliament House is a majestic structure with a unique architectural style, but it presents a different view from the inside. It had to be retrofitted multiple times, which left little space for further improvements. Swathes of wires are squeezed under covers. The inner ceilings of both the Chambers and the Central Hall were provided with safety nettings to prevent any tiles and plaster from falling down. The multiple wirings for computers, air conditioners and security gadgets gave the complex a highly shabby look. In 2012, the Rajya Sabha proceedings had to be adjourned due to a peculiar stench emanating from AC ducts.
The Presiding Officers of the past have also emphasised the need to find a better solution. In 2012, the Speaker, Meira Kumar, stated that the Parliament building was “weeping,” and approved a high-powered committee to look for an alternative complex. In 2015, the Speaker, Sumitra Mahajan, wrote to the Minister for Urban Affairs to have a new Parliament building with modern facilities. All this points to the fact that the new Parliament building should have been constructed at least a decade ago, if not earlier. This issue was taken up on priority under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A detailed plan to build a start-of-the-art Parliament was set in motion, and its foundation was laid in December 2020. In just two and half years, this building has been made ready for use. After the work began, India went through three waves of COVID-19. However, the safety of workers was given priority so that construction could continue.
Equipped for the needs of today
The new building is more spacious, energy-efficient, and accessible. It has the most updated technology, which makes it well-equipped for future needs as well. While laying the foundation of the new Parliament building, the Prime Minister emphasised increasing the efficiency of MPs and modernising our work culture. In the new building, we will be able to accommodate various languages with state-of-the-art facilities for simultaneous interpretations as well as better features for audio-visual communication as compared to the existing Parliament. Better gadgets, access to an e-library, and important reports will be easily accessible for members from their seats. This will enhance the capacity of legislators and improve the efficiency of the Secretariats of Parliament.
The building has publicly accessible museum-grade galleries and a Constitution Hall that showcases India’s age-old history of democracy. India is not the first country to have constructed a new Parliament building due to paucity of space and to meet the changing needs. A new Parliament House was constructed in 1988 in Australia in front of the old one. The iconic United States Capitol, which was constructed in 1793, has seen several upgrades. The Parliament building of Israel, built in 1966, was upgraded with new wings in 1981 and again in 1999. The Canadian Senate building was closed recently for major renovation and the sittings were conducted in a makeshift arrangement.
The inauguration of a new Parliament building presents an opportunity for us to seriously introspect on our parliamentary conduct to make Parliament more efficient and productive. The trend of increasing disruptions and long periods of deadlock is antithetical to the demand for politics to respond to the complex governance challenges of our time. One hopes that adequate functional space and modern facilities for the members will contribute to reducing friction and enabling serious discussions. In the coming years, as this complex expands, each member will have their own dedicated space for interacting with people from their constituencies.
A modern legislature is required to work in tune with the challenges of time. The country has already paid huge costs — social and economic — due to the absence of laws when needed the most. The world is changing fast and is on the verge of a tectonic shift due to the emergence of machine learning and artificial intelligence. The new Parliament building should remind us to prepare and equip ourselves to face up the new challenges. As a fountainhead of the people’s hopes and aspirations, particularly those of the younger generations, it would work as a lighthouse to guide us in our ambitious journey to build ‘Ek Bharat, Shrestha Bharat.’
The inauguration of a new Parliament building presents an opportunity for us to seriously introspect on our parliamentary conduct.
Facts about the News
The Central Vista Project sets out to build a new Parliament and other Central Government offices in Lutyens Delhi.
- In December 1911, King George V made an announcement in Delhi Durbar (a grand assembly) to shift the capital of India from Calcutta to Delhi. Delhi Durbar was hosted to mark the coronation of King George V.
- The task of constructing a new city was given to Edwin Lutyens, known for his strong adherence to European Classicism and Herbert Baker, a prominent architect in South Africa.
- Herbert Baker is also the architect of the Union buildings at Pretoria, South Africa.
- Parliament House building was designed by both Lutyens and Baker.
- Madhya Pradesh’s Chausath Yogini Mandir is the temple which inspired the design of Indian Parliament.
- Rashtrapati Bhavan was designed by Edwin Lutyens.
- The Secretariat which includes both north and south block was designed by Herbert Baker.
Central Vista Project – Overview
1.The Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs proposed a Central Vista redevelopment project in 2019.
2.The project intends to construct a triangular-shaped Parliament building next to the existing one, construction of Common Central Secretariat, revamp of the 3 kilometres long Rajpath from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate.
3.It also includes the conversion of North and South Blocks into museums and the development of Central Vista Avenue.
4.To accommodate the offices of various ministries, 87 storied buildings will be built for the common Central Secretariat.
5.Nirman Bhavan, Krishi Bhavan, and Vigyan Bhavan will be demolished under this project.
Central Vista Redevelopment – Need of Revamping
1.Inadequate facilities and infrastructure of the Parliament building to meet the current demand.
2.The offices of the Central Government are spread over different locations which affect inter-departmental coordination, and unnecessary travel leading to congestion and pollution.
3.Most of the existing buildings have outlived their structural lives.
Only six religion options make it to next Census form
Detailed codes for Sarnaism, the Lingayat religion, etc. were dropped in the final schedule; form to include questions on source of drinking water
Do you consume “packaged or bottled water”? The Census wants to know. This will be one of the new questions in the next Census, which will also introduce “natural calamities” as a new option when asking about the factors responsible for migration of an individual or a family, besides existing options.
Despite demands from several communities to be counted as a separate religion, the next Census will only count Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh and Jain as options. Nature-worshipping Adivasis in Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Odisha have been campaigning to include their Sarna faith as a separate religion, while Karnataka’s Lingayats have been making a similar demand.
Though respondents can write the name of any other religion, no separate code will be provided.
Only six religion options make it to Census form
Census officials had, in fact, designed detailed codes for religion on the basis of data collected during Census 2011. However, they were dropped and only six religion codes were retained in the final schedule. The details are explained in a report titled, “The Treatise on Indian Censuses Since 1981”, which was released by Home Minister Amit Shah on May 22.
The next Census is also set to be the first digital Census, where respondents will have the option to fill in the questionnaire from the comfort of their own home.
The 31 questions for the first phase — Houselisting and Housing Schedule — were notified on January 9, 2020. As many as 28 questions have been finalised for the second phase — the Population Enumeration — but are yet to be notified. The final set of questions for both phases were asked during a pre-test exercise in 2019 in 76 districts in 36 States and Union Territories, covering a population of more than 26 lakh.
A comparison of the questions asked in 2011 and those finalised for the next Census shows that for a section on the mode of travel to place of work, respondents will have to answer new queries on their travel time in hours and minutes, and whether they use metro rail. A question on types and causes of disabilities has been expanded to include “acid attack, intellectual disability, chronic neurological disease and blood disorder”.
The next Census will also record details on whether a person who lives in a rented house owns a house somewhere else or does not own any residential property. On the question of availability of drinking water, it explains that “near the premises” means “within 100 metres in urban areas” and “within 500 metres in rural areas”.
Directory to reduce bias
For the first time, a code directory — containing possible responses and their matching codes for questions involving descriptive and non-numeric entries — has been prepared for the use of enumerators during the second phase of Census 2021. It has codes in respect of Relationship to Head, Mother Tongue and Other Languages Known, Occupation, Nature of Industry, Trade or Service, Birth Place/Place of last residence and Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) etc. “Data processing of these descriptive responses required human intervention to codify into required data format as per the tabulation plan… It also involved risk to data bias and errors because of diverse judgement of enumerators and the persons codifying the response as well,” the report said.
Indus Waters Treaty: Centre advises J&K to scale up efforts for ‘better utilisation’
The Union government on Friday instructed officials in Jammu & Kashmir to scale up efforts for “better utilisation of the country’s rights under the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT)” over the three rivers flowing through the Union Territory. Deputy National Security Adviser Sari Vikram Misri chaired the second meeting of the special task force in Srinagar “to ensure exercise of India’s rights under the IWT”, a spokesman said.
The meeting took stock of the progress made on various hydro power projects in J&K. It was noted that progress had been made on several fronts and emphasis was laid on completing the works on all the Indus Basin Projects in a timely manner to enable better utilisation of India’s rights under the IWT, the spokesman said.
The high-level meeting was attended by top officials, including J&K’s Principal Secretary of the Power Development Department, officials from the Ministry of External Affairs and Commissioner (Indus) and the Ministry of Jal Shakti.
The Deputy NSA also met J&K Lieutenant-Governor (L-G) Manoj Sinha and apprised him of the ongoing efforts to monitor implementation of hydro power projects in the Indus Basin under the directions of the Prime Minister’s Office. “The L-G assured full cooperation in this national endeavour,” the spokesman said.
Navy, ISRO release training plan for Gaganyaan crew
The Indian Navy and ISRO recently released the Gaganyaan Recovery Training Plan at INS Garuda in Kochi. Special Arrangement
The human spaceflight is scheduled to be launched in the fourth quarter of 2024; the astronaut designates for the mission are currently undergoing their mission-specific training at Bengaluru
In an important step towards realising India’s ambitious Gaganyaan mission to put an Indian in space, the Indian Navy and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) released the Gaganyaan Recovery Training Plan at the Water Survival Training Facility (WSTF) at INS Garuda, Kochi.
The human flight, after two unmanned flights, is scheduled to be launched in the fourth quarter of 2024.
“The document outlines the training plan for recovery of the crew module of the mission. It defines overall requirements with respect to training of various teams participating in recovery operations including divers, MARCOs (marine commandos), medical specialists, communicators, technicians and naval aviators,” the Navy said in a statement on Friday.
The recovery training is planned in incremental phases starting from unmanned recovery to manned recovery training in harbour and open sea conditions and are being led by the Indian Navy in coordination with other agencies, it stated.
The training document was jointly released by Vice Admiral Atul Anand, Director General of Naval Operations; Dr. Unnikrishnan Nair, Director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, (VSSC); and Dr. Umamaheshwaran R., Director, Human Space Flight Centre (HSFC) of the ISRO.
The astronaut designates for human space flight mission are currently undergoing their mission-specific training at Bengaluru with the second semester of crew training currently underway. Corresponding evaluation and assessment activities have also been completed.
In December 2022, Minister of State in the PMO for Space, Dr. Jitendra Singh, informed Parliament that India’s maiden human space flight ‘H1’ mission is targeted to be launched in the fourth quarter of 2024.
In a written reply in the Lok Sabha, Dr. Singh said that in view of the paramount importance of crew safety, two test vehicle missions are planned before the ‘G1’ mission to demonstrate the performance of crew escape system and parachute-based deceleration system for different flight conditions.
“The uncrewed ‘G1’ mission is targeted to be launched in the last quarter of 2023, followed by the second uncrewed ‘G2’ mission in the second quarter of 2024, before the final human space flight ‘H1’ mission in the fourth quarter of 2024,” he stated.
Union Food Ministry counters Cong., says fortified rice is safe
The Union Food Ministry on Friday countered the Opposition Congress’s allegation that the distribution of fortified rice through fair price shops is being done despite multiple warnings by experts and institutions such as NITI Aayog and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
A spokesperson of the Ministry said the NITI Aayog had been actively engaged in running the scheme. “There is no basis in the reports that NITI Aayog took a stand against fortified rice,” he said.
The Ministry has been maintaining, citing various studies, that consumption of fortified rice resulted in significant improvement in haemoglobin levels and reduction in the prevalence of anaemia.
The Ministry said rice fortification has been adopted by seven countries, including the U.S., since 1958.
“Concurrent evaluation is being done by NITI Aayog in association with the Indian Council of Medical Research. Evaluation study of some pilot districts are also under way,” the official said.
Meanwhile, the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) said in a statement that the Centre, in a unilateral decision, has been supplying iron-fortified rice in public safety net programmes such as the PDS, mid-day meals, and anganwadis, reaching crores of Indians.
“These are mostly poor citizens who rely on State subsidised food and for whom iron-fortified rice has become mandatory since they cannot afford to buy other (non-fortified) rice in the open market. The scaling up of this programme came before a pilot scheme in 15 States was completed, or evaluated independently and rigorously. The evaluation of these pilots was due in late 2022 as per an RTI response by the government,” the statement said.
Facts about the News
- Fortification is the addition of key vitamins and minerals such as iron, iodine, zinc, Vitamin A & D to staple foods such as rice, milk and salt to improve their nutritional content.
- These nutrients may or may not have been originally present in the food before processing.
Fortification of Rice:
- According to the Food Ministry, fortification of rice is a cost-effective and complementary strategy to increase vitamin and mineral content in diets.
- According to FSSAI norms, 1 kg fortified rice will contain iron (28 mg-42.5 mg), folic acid (75-125 microgram) and Vitamin B-12 (0.75-1.25 microgram).
- In addition, rice may also be fortified with micronutrients, singly or in combination, with zinc, Vitamin A, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B3 and Vitamin B6.