Police Act 1922: Origin, objective of colonial era legislation makes strong case for its repeal

The Act, in a nutshell, penalises any person who causes or attempts to cause disaffection amongst members of the police force or induces any member of the police force to commit a breach of discipline

Janay Jain November 05, 2020 15:42:39 IST
Police Act 1922: Origin, objective of colonial era legislation makes strong case for its repeal

Since India’s independence, innumerable archaic laws have been done away with. However, many such obsolete laws are still in force in today’s day and age. The Maharashtra Police’s recent invocation of the Police (Incitement to Disaffection) Act, 1922, has yet again kickstarted a discussion pertaining to the need of such obsolete laws in present times. With the Maharashtra Police’s actions, an act which was earlier confined to the archives and easily lost in bookshelves is now in the midst of public discourse. Through the course of this article, I shall lay attention to the objectives the British sought to achieve by introducing the Police (Incitement to Disaffection) Act and whether the Act is in sync with the Supreme Court’s rulings on free speech.

Before discussing The Police (Incitement to Disaffection) Act, 1922, it is pertinent to understand the background in which the Act was passed. Between 1914-1918, World War One was fought. Although Great Britain emerged victorious, it did not emerge unscathed. The War had left a sizeable political and economic impact and its reverberations could be felt up till the Asian subcontinent. The hardships of the war were superimposed on India as more than 70,000 Indian soldiers had lost their lives in the conflict. The war also led to an overall decline in India’s exports to continental Europe leading to highly damaging effects on the earnings of local Indians. Moreover, the mishandling of the influenza epidemic of 1918 led to more than 8,00,000 deaths and a large number of people were left surviving in body but enfeebled in spirit. Owing to these factors, there was a strong undercurrent against the imperialistic forces in India.

The undercurrent against the imperialistic forces only solidified between 1919-1922. The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre led to intensified public outrage and the Khilafat Movement and the Civil Disobedience Movement were examples of large-scale discontent brewing against the British in India. To clamp down on dissent, the imperialistic forces passed a series of legislations including the Rowlatt Act, Defence of India Act, and The Police (Incitement to Disaffection) Act, 1922.

The Police (Incitement to Disaffection) Act, 1922, was one amongst the several legislations introduced by an imperial power to further fortify its stronghold on a colony it ruled. In British India, the army was usually relegated to the background and the task of suppressing disturbances and enforcing imperial authority was primarily the responsibility of police officers. The armed police were both the cutting edge of the colonial power and one of its most vulnerable points. As political agitations developed in strength, the armed police was enlarged. However, to a greater extent, the police were susceptible to a conflict of loyalties between the regime they served and the communities to which they belonged.

The objective behind the passing of this legislation was to prevent a mutiny amongst the ranks of the Imperial Police Force. The British were scarred by the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 and they feared yet another revolt. Moreover, the demographics of the Imperial Police Force further worried the British. The force, although might have been ultimately controlled by the British, but it was the natives who numerically dominated it. It is evident on examining the objectives of the Act that the sole intention behind the passing of this Act was for it to be used as yet another tool for the British to successfully continue its colonisation of India in a despotic manner.

The background behind the Police (Incitement to Disaffection) Act, 1922, and the objective with which it was passed, in itself, makes a strong case for the Act to be repealed and for us to further free ourselves from the shackles of our colonialists. However, questions can also be raised on the constitutionality of The Police (Incitement to Disaffection) Act, 1922. Since India’s independence, jurisprudence on freedom of speech and expression has evolved considerably. The Act, in a nutshell, penalises any person who causes or attempts to cause disaffection amongst members of the police force or induces any member of the police force to commit a breach of discipline.

On a mere reading of the Act, it can be ascertained that the terms used in the Act have not been defined or even attempted to be defined. Although reliance may be placed on past jurisprudence of the courts to ascertain the meaning of ‘disaffection’, it is still unclear as to what constitutes a breach of discipline. The Supreme Court in the judgement of KA Abbas versus The Union of India recognised the fears of a loosely defined statute and stated that where the persons applying the law are in a boundless sea of uncertainty and the law prima facie takes away a guaranteed freedom, the law must be held to offend the Constitution.

These concerns were echoed by the Law Commission of India as well. The Commission in 2014 had undertaken a project to identify obsolete laws warranting an immediate repeal. In its 248th report, The Law Commission of India had highlighted 72 such statues warranting an immediate repeal. Unsurprisingly, the Police (Incitement to Disaffection) Act 1922 too had found its name on the list.

The author is a student at Government Law College, Mumbai

Updated Date:

Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.

also read

Dissent in Congress: As disgruntlement resurfaces, time for party to move forward; mere introspection is not enough
Politics

Dissent in Congress: As disgruntlement resurfaces, time for party to move forward; mere introspection is not enough

At the national level, the Congress needs to revive itself to provide the necessary framework for a national Opposition

Indira Gandhi's legacy provides crucial lessons to help reshape the present, secure the future
India

Indira Gandhi's legacy provides crucial lessons to help reshape the present, secure the future

History is replete with biases and politics is pregnant with contradictions. Thus, the pursuit of innocuous history and pristine politics is not only factually erroneous but also intellectually untenable

With Scam 1992 and Chhalaang, Hansal Mehta ushers in a new wave of thought-provoking, entertaining content
Entertainment

With Scam 1992 and Chhalaang, Hansal Mehta ushers in a new wave of thought-provoking, entertaining content

The last time Hansal Mehta reinvented himself he gave us films like Aligarh and Shahid. Post Scam 1992 and Chhalaang, I can’t wait to see what Hansal 3.0 will bring us.