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Sedition Law-UAPA, NSA: A Concerning Threat To Indian Democracy Or Government Uses It As A Political Tool?

What is sedition Law in India?

According to Section 124A, the sedition law means "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 shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added."

History of Sedition Law in India :-The Indian Penal Code (IPC) was drafted by Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-59) and passed in 1860 by the Legislative Council. However, Section 124A of the IPC, which criminalises 'disaffection towards the Government established by law' or sedition, was introduced by British politician and lawyer James Fitzjames Stephen through an amendment in 1870.

India's first case on sedition was heard the Calcutta High Court in 1891 in Queen Empress vJogendraChunder Bose. The proprietor, editor, manager, and printer of a Bengali magazine Bangobasi were all tried for sedition for publishing an article criticising the British government's raising of the age of consent for sexual intercourse

BalGangadharTilak, a key figure in the independence movement, was convicted of sedition twice. In 1897, Tilak was convicted by the Bombay High Court for his speeches at a Shivaji festival that had allegedly prompted the murder of two British officers. The presiding Judge broadened the scope of 'disaffection' towards the government under Section 124A of the IPC to include disloyalty. In 1908, Tilak was convicted of sedition once again by the same Court for his writings in Kesari, the Marathi newspaper he founded in 1881.

In 1922, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was charged with sedition and tried at the Sessions Court in Bhadra, Gujarat, for his politically sensitive articles in the Young India journal. Both Gandhi and the publisher of the journal pled guilty. At the trial, Gandhi read out a statement detailing the history of his disaffection towards the British government. He referred to Section 124A of the IPC as suppressing the liberty of citizens, stating that 'affection [towards the government] could not be manufactured'. Gandhi was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison.

In 1942, the Federal Court of India defined sedition as leading to 'public disorder or the reasonable anticipation or likelihood of public disorder'. The Court emphasised that sedition implies some form of resistance or lawlessness. This decision was subsequently overruled by the Privy Council in King Emperor v Sadashiv Narayan Bhalerao (1947).

Landmark case of Sedition:

Kedarnath Singh v. State of Bihar (1962)
The Supreme Court of India took up the case of constitutionality for the first time in this case. The Court, contrary to the judgments by the high courts, held sedition to be constitutional. But, the Court made a key addition to the law of sedition. Following the Federal Court's interpretation, It held that sedition can only be valid if it intends to incite violence. Even the exceptions to the offense of sedition would be applicable only if they didn't lead to public disorder by violence. The Court also published guidelines to be followed in the application of Section 124A.

Vinod Dua vs Union of India:
"The Supreme Court quashed the sedition FIR filed against journalist Vinod Dua for a video in which he remarked against the Prime Minister on his handling of the COVID crisis. In doing so, the Court reiterated the guidelines laid down in Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar (1962), that a sedition charge is attracted only when incitement to violence, or the tendency or intention to create public disorder can be proven.

A division bench of UU Lalit and Vineet Saran JJ held that remarks made by Mr. Dua constituted criticism of the governmental policy and could not be termed seditious". However, the bench rejected the plea of a committee for screening FIRs against journalists saying it would amount to interference in the legislative domain.

Despite holding the remarks made by Mr.Dua to be outside the scope of sedition, the Court discussed the Kedar Nath guidelines in detail. In the 1962 case, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the sedition provision though it issued guidelines to restrict its scope. The Court had held that unless disaffection against the government is accompanied by incitement to violence, or intention to cause disorder, the offence of sedition is not committed.

NCRB Data On Sedition:
According to the data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 356 cases of sedition under Section 124A of the IPC were registered and 548 people were arrested between 2015 and 2020.

A total of 356 cases of sedition have been registered between 2015 and 2020. During this six-year period, however, only 12 people arrested in seven sedition cases were convicted. The cases under the charges of sedition across the country were 73 in 2020; 93 in 2019; 70 in 2018; 51 in 2017; 35 in 2016 and 30 in 2015.

The conviction rate of sedition cases was 33.3% in 2020; 3.3% in 2019; 15.4% in 2018; 16.7% in 2017 and 33.3% in 2016. A total of 44 persons were arrested under the sedition law in 2020, as compared to 99 in 2019; 56 in 2018; 228 in 2017; 48 in 2016; and 73 in 2015.

Unlawful activities prevention Act UAPA (1967):

Uapa is an Indian law aimed at prevention of unlawful activities associations in India. Its main objective was to make powers available for dealing with activities directed against the integrity and sovereignty of India. The history of UAPA can be traced back to the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1908 during the British Empire which was being used during colonial period to dismantle Indian freedom movement by prosecuting the leaders.

After independence, a committee was constituted on National Integration and regionalisation by the National Integration Council to recommend on the restrictions which can be put in place to safeguard the integrity and sovereignty of India. To implement the recommendations, Sixteenth amendment was brought in the Constitution which paved the way for Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Bill, introduced in Parliament and was passed in 1967 during the fifth Lok Sabha.

It bestowed the power on the Central Government to ban any organisations which was being done by the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1908 till then. It empowered the Central Government to declare any organisation which indulges in 'unlawful activities' as 'unlawful organisation'. This act has undergone over half-a-dozen amendments to make it what it stands today. Prior to this amendment, UAPA was not a terror law.

This amendment added new crime in the list of criminalized acts called 'terrorist acts'. With this, the Government can also ban organisations for indulging in 'terrorist acts'. The most recent and the most controversial amendment was introduced in 2019 by which the Government can now designate any individual as terrorist.

Arrest Under UAPA:

There is a constitutional safeguard against arrest and detention which are guaranteed under Article 22 of the Constitution. It states that every person, arrested or detained, has a right to know the grounds of such arrest and detention as soon as possible. The Police is required to produce such arrested or detained person, as the case may be, to the Magistrate within a period of twenty four hours.

Moreover, Section 50 of the CrPC places an obligation on the Police who is making an arrest without warrant to immediately communicate the arrested person about the charges and offence for which he is arrested. Under UAPA, an arrest can be made without giving reasonable justification to the individual.

The guideline provided in the landmark case of DK Basu vs. State of West Bengal that the family of an arrested person must be informed after the arrest is flouted in the case of arrest under UAPA an Officer who is making an arrest is only obligated to inform the suspect of the charges for which he/she is arrested "as soon as maybe". There is no prescribed or fixed time limit mentioned under the Act


As many 3,998 cases under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act were pending investigation by the end of 2021, the Ministry of Home Affairs has said in the parliament. By the end of 2021, as many as 2,800 cases were awaiting trial, the ministry said in response to an unstarred question asked by two Congress MPs. In 2021, 1,621 people were arrested under the UAPA. Sixty two people were convicted. It is not clear from the data when exactly those convicted were arrested.

In 2020, 1,321 people were arrested under the UAPA. Five of those arrested were juveniles. Eighty people were convictedIn 2019, 1,948 people were arrested against UAPA charges, six of them juveniles. Four of these six juveniles are between 12 and 16 years of age. Two are between 16 and 18 years. Thirty four people were convicted of UAPA offences that year. As many 3,998 UAPA cases were pending investigation across all states and Union Territories at the end of 2021, the government said, citing NCRB data. In 2019, the number was 3,993 and in 2020, it was 4,101.

How These Act Threat To Democracy:

  1. A Tool for Suppression of Dissent:
    As analyzed earlier, the words used to define an unlawful activity or a terrorist act, such as 'disclaims' or 'questions' or 'dissatisfaction' or 'overawes' or 'show of criminal force' etc. are such nature so as to create an unbridled scope, resulting in criminalizing all forms of dissent - criticism - lawful protests against arbitrary government policies. Thus, the Act often is misused as a tool to contract the scope of the fundamental right to free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
  2. Sedition law is a threat to freedom of speech and expression:
    Individual autonomy is the foundation of freedom. Right to freedom of speech and expression is the most essential liberty in democratic states. Freedom of speech and expression is the natural right that is inherited as a social being. Free speech and expression are necessary for the functioning of a healthy democracy and a civil society. Balwan Singh v. State of Punjab, the court observed that it is freedom to disapprove the measure of the government without inciting hatred, contempt, disaffection. Any disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the government without inciting hatred, contempt, disloyalty do not amount to an offense of sedition.
  3. Sedition Law Is Contrary To The Republic:
    The sedition laws were legislated under specific circumstances to cover and advance colonialism. Similar laws should have no place in an ultramodern republic governed by free speech and expression. A liberal republic demands that every citizen is allowed to suppose, express, and organize "souring" against the government. Rather than being a crime, free expression is a virtue in any popular polity. Putting decoration on this, utmost former British-ruled homes including the United States, Australia, and New Zealand have abolished the inflammatory vittles. Indeed, the British government scrapped the inflammatory vittles under the Coroners and Justice Act in 2010.
  4. Anti-Ethical To Freedom And Democracy:
    Freedom of speech and expression is the hallmark of a republic that's being compromised due to the sedition law. A republic requires citizens to laboriously share in debates and express their formative examines of government programs. Still, the sedition laws have empowered the administrative branch of the government to use the ambiguously defined provision as an instrument to regulate public opinion and indiscriminately apply power. There have been numerous cases where the government has used the sedition law to suppress protesting voices to cover its interests.

    The apprehensions of the NDTV intelligencer Vinod Dua for criticizing the government's response to COVID- 19 and the 22- time-old Disha Ravi in the Greta Thunberg toolkit case for twittering in solidarity with the planter's agitation in India have raised numerous questions about freedom of speech and expression in India.

In spite of the fact that sedition provision helps the government to curb secessionist movement and anti-national propaganda, it has an arbitrary affect. When the person is accused of sedition it becomes difficult for the accused to even secure bail, even if the person is booked for trivial offensive speech.

In such a case, the long process of trial becomes punishment. Another problem is the misuse by the government. it has been used by the government to control criticism against its policies. Right to freedom of speech and expression is a natural right and a human right. Human beings are entitled by nature to freedom of speech and expression.

Of course, this freedom is not absolute, it has certain restrictions for the protection of the state and public decency or morality but that does not allow the government to curtail the right in an arbitrary manner. We can take the example of United Kingdom that has repealed sedition law. There are other laws that covers offences like hate speech, contempt against government, etc.

Some sedition laws have also been repealed in the United States Laws that have been misused for a long period inevitably lose their authority thereby making it essential to review them or take necessary measures.

  1. Indian Penal Code, section 124A
  2. -a -timeline
  8. Basu Versus State of West Bengal (1997 (1) SCC 416),
  10. Nivedita Saksena & Siddhartha Srivastava, an analysis of the modern offence of sedition

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