The arrest of a man in Uttar Pradesh early this week for wrapping meat in a newspaper on which pictures of Hindu deities were printed is the latest example of how legal provisions are being misused in the country. He has not only been booked under the Indian Penal Code’s sections 153-A and 295A, but also under Section 307 for attempt to murder with the police saying he attacked their team when it reached his place to arrest him.
The 19th century British-made IPC has been serving India during and after the Raj and the change in status of its people, from being the subjects of an imperial power to the citizens of a democratic republic, has not called for a total scrap of the document. This could offer a comment on the code and those who administer it on the ground.
The wanton misuse of Section 124A of IPC, or the sedition law, against people opposed to the government recently forced the apex court to undo its own assessment of it and order the state not to slap it on citizens for the time being. The government, however, seems unstoppable and repurposes new sections in the code to do its job and the latest finds are sections 153, 153A, and 295A which are about giving provocation with intent to cause riot, promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence and outraging religious sentiments.
Co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News Mohammed Zubair has been booked under sections 153A and 295A for a 2018 tweet. A large number of people have been arrested in Uttar Pradesh under these sections for taking out protests against the government. Interestingly, former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma, whose whereabouts are unknown, has also been charged under the same sections.
The governments must stop abuse of legal provisions to incarcerate citizens who make use of their constitutional and democratic rights, and the courts should stop playing ball. The Supreme Court should not wait until hundreds of innocent people are made to suffer, as it did in the case of sedition law, before asking for caution.