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Sedition In India


What is sedition?

A conduct or speech which encourage people to rebel against the authority of the state is called sedition.

Sedition is mentioned as Brings or attempts to brings into hatred or contempt[1].Under this section sedition is described as whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, bring or in an attempt to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or try to make attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law shall be punished with life imprisonment, to which fine may also be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may also be added.

Sedition comes under the non-bailable offence. It is offences which are serious offences in nature and in this bail cannot be granted normally. It can be granted only by criminal court.[2]

History of Sedition

When Indian Penal Code was written in 1860 this section was not mentioned in it. This was introduced by the British Colonial Government after Wahabi Revolt in 1870. Mahatma Gandhi knew that the fundamental threat it given to democracy when he called it the prince inside the political sections of the IPC designed to triumph over the liberty of the citizen.

The law was famously used against Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1897 for the first time and later used against many freedom fighters.

Interpretation of sedition by some cases:

Each and every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression.

Challenge to the sedition law in courts:

Kedarnath Singh vs. State of Bihar [3]

  • In the year 1951, the Punjab High Court declared Section 124 A to be unconstitutional.

  • The validity of the provision was held itself by a Constitution Bench in 1962.

  • In this case supreme court discussed that to which extent there is freedom of speech and expression and where is sedition law. It defined that boundary between sedition law and freedom of speech.

  • In this judgement it was said that every citizen will have the right to criticize and to say about the government policies but only if they do not encourage anyone from doing any kind of violence. If anyone who is encouraging others for violence or encourage anyone to create public disorder, then it will come under the boundary of sedition law. One can only criticize the policies of government and say about it if that citizen is not encouraging anyone for violence and create public disorder.

  • Before this judgement sedition law could be applied on anyone if the citizen says anything against the government. But after the judgement of this case this is not possible anymore.

  • Basically, the constitutionality which was challenged of this law was concluded to be true means this law is totally constitutional and this law was not removed by the Supreme Court but the application of this sedition law was limited and gave instruction about where this law can be applied and where not to be applied.

In this judgement the definition of “very strong speech” and “vigorous words” were also distinguished. ( Kedarnath Singh vs. State of Bihar, 1962) [4]

Balwant Singh vs State of Punjab 1995 [5]

After the murder of Indra Gandhi some Sikh people raised slogans in Delhi and at that time Sedition case was applied on those people. When the case reached supreme court, the supreme court said in its judgement that “casual raising of slogans, once or twice by two individuals alone cannot be said to be aimed at exciting or attempt to excite hatred or disaffection by the government”. Because when these people raise the slogan at that time the crowd gave no response about it and no harm was done so there is no case of sedition over here.

The restriction applied on section 124A were:

1. The word disaffection now includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.

2. If a citizen or group of citizens is disapproving about the measures taken by the government by lawful means but they are not creating any violence, then it does not constitute an offence under sedition section 124A.

3. If anyone is commenting upon the policies of the administration but not talking anything about violence, then that will not be constituted as sedition under this section.

Does Independent country like India need a British Era Sedition law?

1. Rights activist always says that this law is wrong and it is always misused. Government have used it against marginalized communities and minorities.

2. Almost every government has used it against dissenters.

3. In 2012-13 many people were protesting against Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant. Tamil Nadu police filed FIR against 9000 people and those 9000 people were unnamed so police could have gone to anyone’s house and say that he/she is included among those 9000 people.(1898)

Used as a tool to harass dissenters?

1. In the past two years almost 10,000 people were accused for sedition in Jharkhand while they were protesting against some development projects.

2. Recently many sedition cases were applied against Anti CAA protestors in Uttar Pradesh.

3. Court views sedition cases as a serious offence as it is a non bailable offence and getting bail is very difficult. Recently a sedition case was filed against a poet.

4. The process of the trial for sedition is so long that the trial itself becomes a punishment.

5. The number of cases got double between 2015 and 2018, according to NCRB data.

6. 332 people were arrested under sedition between the year 2016 and 2018 but only seven of them were convicted.

7. Imposing the law is not a problem but the real problem is that once this law is applied on someone that person will be termed as “anti-national”. Even if later, you will be out of the accusation then also the title of being anti-national will never be removed as it is the common perception. But the problem is that this law is being misused by the government.( Balwant Singh vs State of Punjab , 1995)

Relevance of Sedition Law

If I talk about of democracy and freedom, then sedition law is affecting these two also. In a democratic country the freedom of an individual is very important but laws like sedition law is violating our freedom of speech and expression and applying regulations to it. We know that reasonable restrictions are discussed in Article 19(2).

Sedition law has a very important role. If someone is really encouraging people against the government and someone really wants to harm the country, then in that case this law is very important. (smart IQ, 2021)

The decision which was taken by the parliament about Article 124A:

- When the activist was demanding for the repealing of Section 124A of IPC which deals with sedition, government made it clear that it is not taking any step to repeal the law, saying that it is needed to effectively defeat anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements.

- “There is no proposal to scrap the provision under the IPC dealing with the offence of sedition. There is a need to retain the provision to effectively combat anti-national, secessionist and terrorist element”.(Constitution of India, 2016)

[1]Section 124A Indian Penal code ,1860(Act No.45 1860) [2]Sadaf Modak,” Explained; sedition law” (February 7, 2020 12;01;32) [3]Kedarnath v. state of Bihar (AIR 955,1962 SCR Supl. (2) 769 [4]Avinash Kumar Yadav and Amartya VikramSingh, decoding the history of sedition law in India (June 8, 2021) [5]Balwant singh v. stat of Punjab appeal (crl.) 266 of 1985

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