Fascist, racist or both?

The first bill, though not as drastic as the second, provided for an amendment of the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure. It made the Sedition Law even more severe. Section 124 B was added, which made the possession of seditious literature punishable with imprisonment and/or with a fine as well. This meant that one could be punished even for accidental possession of any literature that was considered seditious. A seditious document, as per the code, could be one 'which instigates or is likely to instigate the use of criminal force against the King, the Government, or a public servant or servants.' Even historical documents or books could be misconstrued as seditious. The onus would be on the possessor of the document to prove his or her innocence.

The bill also contained some added provisions under Chapter VI of the Indian Penal Code, which stated that in case the accused had a previous conviction, or had been associated, habitually or voluntarily, with a person who had been convicted under that chapter, it would affect his or her own case. This meant that even friends and relations of the previously convicted person would have to shun him or her, so as to not be accused.

Further, the bill stated that even those convicted only once would be under the scrutiny of the state and could prohibited from public speech and writing. Eventually this bill was dropped.

Bill No 2, Part 1, was far more dangerous in limitation of safeguards and checks. People could be tried by courts, which could sit in-camera, and there would be no juries, no preliminary proceedings for committal, and no appeal allowed either. Extraordinarily, evidence could be accepted from dead or missing persons and any previous conviction could also admitted as evidence. The tribunals comprised of three persons, who could be either high court judges or person of similar stature, and their judgement could send the convicted to Kala Paani in the Andamans or to the gallows.

Part II of the bill empowered the Executive to restrict and restrain anyone thought to be complicit in 'anarchical and revolutionary movements'. This could also mean restrictions through bonds and keeping the police notified of one's movements. Disobedience of any order would attract a fine of Rs 500 (a huge sum in those days), imprisonment for six months, or both.

However, it was Part III which was found to be the most `alarming'. It empowered the Executive to arrest and search without warrant and to confine persons thus arrested 'without trial in any part of a prison or place not actually used for confinement'. These so-called criminals could be kept in solitary confinement as well. In Part IV, there was provision for an automatic continuance of persons to be confined or restricted, were they already confined or restricted under the Defence India Act. Part V added a few more provisions to make the punishments watertight.

Clearly, the odds were heavily stacked against anyone who was being investigated or arrested as he would not be represented by a lawyer. B.G. Horniman, the editor of Bombay Chronicle, who was closely associated with the Satyagraha movement, and had been externed to England because of his lucidly articulated the concerns of the time. (It was Horniman who smuggled out photographs of the massacre and was one of the first to publish reports on Jallianwala Bagh in the Daily Herald in England.) He wrote, 'The position of a person attempting to defend himself against vague allegations supported by an untested police dossier before a secret inquiry of this character would be obviously hopeless. The act was to be put into operation with the 'formal declaration of the prevalence of anarchical or revolutionary movements'. The worry, of course, was that any political movement could be considered 'anarchical and revolutionary'.

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