A Decade Of Darkness: Our New Sedition Project Provides Answers—And Asks New Questions

We at Article 14—a project combining journalism, legal and academic research—are pleased to announce the launch of 'A Decade of Darkness', our new database on the use of the law on sedition. The database, which took a year to build, will be launched on 4 February 2022. It is the first, empirical and investigative research into the use of sedition over a 12-year period between 2010 and 2021.

Compiling 13,000 cases of sedition sourced through 1,300 legal documents, 800 media reports, 125 police first information reports (FIRs) and more than 70 interviews with those accused of sedition, the database provides unprecedented insight into the operation of a law discarded by most democratic countries as a hindrance to free speech and expression.

‘A Decade of Darkness’ scrapes data from a variety of sources, discerns patterns from the data and combines it with on-ground investigative reporting that probes failings in the justice system and chronicles how the lives of people represented by these data are upended through unfair and extra-legal proceedings.

We began ‘A Decade of Darkness’ during a pandemic, already a time of grief, loss and devastation. The scale of this project compelled us to revisit methods, collaborators and ideas every so often, keeping the integrity of the project in mind. The larger, dangerous political context however, remained the inspiration that pushed us to be resourceful under stresses of time. We considered how the work would translate into a visual storytelling medium; how the complexity of the narratives would play out across diverse audiences; and how arcane data could be simplified in an age of social media.

‘A Decade of Darkness’ was not conceptualised only as an empirical understanding of a 150-year-old colonial law but as exploration of how people accused of sedition were left in a state of limbo, exacerbated by the legal process. Our investigation into the real-life implications of the legal processes behind sedition cases reveals what such accusations—almost always unfounded—can do to those so accused and the power of the law over one’s fate. Stories of debt, physical and mental health issues and feelings of one's life hanging in the balance followed us as our reporters and researchers listened to the stories of those accused of sedition.

‘A Decade of Darkness’ also shattered the assumptions Indians held about sedition—that it is invoked against only a certain group of people under specific political circumstances. We were often taken by surprise at the kind of information that came our way, at the differences between what we read in the media or in a court order and what we learnt when speaking to the accused. While we may have been intellectually prepared to confront our implicit biases, we were still overwhelmed by the scale of the devastation that sedition wrecked on the lives of Indians.   

The findings contained in ‘A Decade of Darkness’ are likely to be uncomfortable and unsettling. You will find answers to many questions about a controversial and disruptive law, but we also anticipate you will ask more questions.

At a time when the law is under challenge before India’s highest court, we hope our new project will prepare you to ask those questions. 

Lubhyathi Rangarajan, Editor Databases & Samar Halarnkar, Editor, Article 14

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