By Anushka Jha ~ Law College Dehradun, Faculty of Uttaranchal University.
Sedition has been an extremely disputable topic in the Democratic Country like India because of it conflicted with the Fundamental Right of Speech and Expression which empowers citizens to criticize the government and their policies. To maintain the balance between Sedition and Freedom of Speech and Expression has been a challenging task for the judiciary as both are the two sides of the same coin.
The article focuses on what is the Sedition Law and how it was introduced and its Constitutional validity.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, Sedition is “an insurrectionary movement tending towards treason but wanting an overt act; attempts made by meetings or speeches or by publication to disturb the tranquility of the State. The difference between ‘sedition’ and ‘treason’ is that though the ultimate repercussions of sedition is a violation of the public peace or at least such course of measures adopted eminently dangers the public interest, but yet it does not aim at direct and open violence against the laws or the subversion of the Constitution”.
Sec 124A of IPC defines Sedition as “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India, a shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine”.
Sedition is a cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence which is punished with imprisonment of three years to a lifetime with fine. Persons who are involved in the seditious act their passport is ceased and they have to present themselves in court whenever required.
Section 95 of Criminal Procedure Code states the right of the government to forfeit things punishable under Section 124 A on stated grounds while Chapter X of CrPC deals with maintenance of public order and tranquility and also permits Police, Magistrate and Armed Forces to cause an unlawful public assembly to disperse, if necessary, by using force and to maintain public order.
According to Sec 2(o) of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 supporting cases of withdrawal, questioning territorial integrity, and causing or intending to cause disaffection against India fall inside the ambit of unlawful activity. Section 13 punishes unlawful action with imprisonment reaching out to seven years and a fine.
In simple words, it can be said that a Sedition is an act or conduct which attempts to spread hatred and bring out dissatisfaction against the government. In England Sedition is called “Seditious Libel” i.e., “Libel of the established authority of Law”.
Sedition Law was drafted by Macaulay and was introduced in the 17th Century. It was inserted in 1870 under Chapter IV of IPC after Wahabi Revolt and the first trial for sedition was conducted in 1891. The main aim of the introduction of this provision was to suppress the voice of the people against the government. Many Freedom Fighters like Gandhiji, Bal Gangadhar Tilak etc. were charged for sedition. First Trial of Sedition was done in 1896 in the case of Bal Gangadhar Tilak as his newspaper Kesari contained articles against the government and was sent to jail. The term “disaffection” was interpreted in this case. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said the Sedition Law to be unconstitutional on the ground that it conflicts with the Freedom of Speech and Expression and quoted that “Now so far as I am concerned Section 124A is highly objectionable and obnoxious and it should have no place both for practical and historical reasons if you like, in any body of laws that we might pass”.
Constitutional Validity of Sedition
After Independence, Constitutionality of Sedition laws were challenged in different High Courts as well as in The Supreme Court. In the case of Ram Nandan v. State of Uttar Pradesh Allahabad High Court held S. 124A to be invalid on the ground that it is violative of Art.19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
In 1951, in the case of Tara Singh Gopi Chand v The State the Punjab High Court struck down Sec 124A on the ground that it is unconstitutional.
An amendment was made in Art.19(2) in 1951 in which expressions “in the interest of” and “public order” were added. Considering the amendment in Art. 19(2) in the case of Kedarnath Singh v State of Bihar The Hon’ble Supreme Court upheld the Constitutionality of Sedition Laws in India maintaining the balance between the Freedom of Speech and Expression and Sedition and said that the right guaranteed under Art. 19(1)(a) is subjected to restrictions under Art.19(2).
In 1955 in the case of Balwant Singh And Anr v State of Punjab Supreme Court acquitted the accused saying that the raising of the slogan by one or two people doesn’t cause incitement of hatred against the government or disturb public order. It becomes an offence only when it incites a larger number of people which causes public disorder and disturbs the law and order of the state.
In the case of Aseem Trivedi v. the State of Maharashtra, a cartoonist was charged for posting offensive sketches of Parliament and Emblem. In this very case, the court made a distinction between disloyalty and criticism.
In the case of Kanhaiya Kumar v. The State of Delhi, a student of JNU was charged under Sec 124A and 120B of IPC for raising slogans that would lower down the integrity of the nation.
Pros and cons of Sedition laws in India
- It is important to create a sense of fear among anti-national elements of the society so as to stop them.
- It can be an effective measure to prevent hatred in the society and thus maintaining social integrity.
- It can be an effective tool to stop incitement of offences like rioting and thus maintaining the social order.
- It helps in maintaining balance between rights guaranteed under Art.19(1)(a) and interest of the nation.
- It is a very broader term.
- It imposes restrictions on the Freedom of Speech and Expression which is an essential element of a democratic country.
- It is arbitrarily used by ruling parties to suppress voices of the people who question their party or policies. They often term such people as “anti-nationals”.
- It is against the democratic rights of people to criticize the government.
- Minority Groups are targeted mostly.
Courts in the plethora of judgements support the constitutionality of the Section 124A but in the number of cases it is found that the authorities are misusing the section, and so the Section must be reviewed and changes must be made in the section. Judiciary has a vital role in dealing with the cases of sedition so as to protect the rights of the victims. Therefore, the dynamic nature of the law calls for abolition of sedition laws in India, when a Constitutional democracy is almost 70 decades old as constructive criticism of government is a necessary tool for the development of a democratic nation.
 Emperor vs Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1908) 10 BOMLR 848.
 AIR 1959 AII 101, 1959 CriLJ 1.
 1951 CriLJ 449.
 AIR 1962 SC 955.