Sedition is one of the most debated provisions in India. The British who first
administered Sedition law has themselves abolished this law in their territory.
The object of this enactment is to forestall ill will or contempt against the
Government established by law.
Yet, as a general rule, it is abused by the
administration in power, even though the apex court decided on numerous
occurrences that mere criticism won't draw in 124A of IPC. In most instances
across various periods of time, a debate among mediocre people arises about this
rule's constitutional validity, whether it affects fundamental right guaranteed
under part III or the basic structure of the Indian Constitution.
The expression Sedition
was first noted in the history in 1590, during the
Elizabethan Era, in England, the law passed to protect the crown and the
Government from any possible revolts. But the law was criticized and debated
over its existence during various periods. Subsequently, in 1977, the British
law commission recommended abolishing Sedition law in their country.
Consequently, the then British Secretary of the State repealed Sedition through
the Coroners and Justice Act, 2009. During the enactment of this act, she had
Sedition and seditious and defamatory libel are arcane offences:
from a bygone era when freedom of expression wasn't seen as the right it is
today Freedom of speech is now seen as the touchstone of democracy, and the
ability of individuals to criticize the state is crucial to maintaining freedom.
This law found its origin in India during the British era, through the First law
commission report chaired by Thomas Macaulay in 1834 as Section 113 of
Macaulay's Draft Penal code of 1837. But Sedition was not the part of IPC when
the law got enacted in 1860; instead, it was inserted into IPC as Section 124A
by the IPC amendment act, 1870.
The need for this Section emerged due to the Wahabi Movement; this was an Islamic revivalist Movement led by Syed Ahmed
Barlvi. This movement was active since the 1830s, but after the Great Revolt of
1857, it turned into armed resistance. As a result, the British introduced
Section 124A into the IPC and declared the Wahabis as traitors and carried out
an extensive military operation against them.
Sedition prohibits any speech, publication, acts, or writings against the
Government with seditious intent. This intent previously described as:
encouraging the violent overthrow of a democratic institution.
 The term
Sedition was later defined as:
exciting or attempting to excite feelings of disaffection to the Government
established by law
It was well elaborated in Reg
v. Burns, where the court stated that:
Sedition is a crime against the
society, nearly allied to that of treason and it frequently precedes treason by
a short interval. The object of Sedition generally is to induce discontent and
insurrection and to stir up opposition to the Government and bring the
administration of justice into contempt and the very tendency of Sedition if to
incite the people into insurrection and rebellion.
Subsequently in Reg v.
 where Justice Coleridge stated that the word Sedition in its
ordinary natural significance denotes a tumult, an insurrection, popular
commotion or an uproar but it implies violence or lawlessness in some form.'
While delving into the definition of Sedition, the five specific heads of
Sedition may be enumerated according to the object of the accused. This may be
1. To excite disaffection against the King, Government or Constitution, or
Parliament or the administration of justice.
2. To promote, by unlawful means, any alteration in church or States.
3. To incite a disturbance of the peace.
4. To raise discontent among the king's subjects.
5. To excite class hatred. 
Position of Sedition in India:
In India, the term Sedition located initially in Section 113 of Macaulay's Draft
Penal code of 1837; the provision read as follows:
Whoever, by word, either spoken or intended to be read, attempts to excite
feelings of disaffection to the Government established by law in the territories
of the East India Company, among any class of people who live under the
Government shall be punished with imprisonment for life or for any term to which
fine may be added, or with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to
three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine
But later when this provision was inserted as Section 124A in IPC, the provision
had minor change which added transportation for life as also a punishment.
Similarly, even after its incorporation, the provision had some changes by IPC
amendment act of 1898, after some inconsequential modification made by the
Adoption of laws order issued in 1937, 1948 and 1950 and by the Part B states
(Law) Act, 1951, hence the present Section 124A reads as under:
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 toward the Government
established by law in India, 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.
The expression disaffection includes disloyalty and all
feelings of enmity.
Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the
Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without
exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not
constitute an offence under this Section.
Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or
other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred,
contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this Section.
On the comparing both past and the current provision it establishes that in the
former the offence consisted in exciting or attempting to excite a feeling of
disaffection to the Government established by law but in the latter bringing or
trying to bring into hatred or contempt towards the Government established by
law is also made punishable.
The Essence of Section 124A:
The essential ingredients of Section 124A are that:
- there should be words, Signs, Visible representation or otherwise,
- Brings or attempt to bring into hatred or contempt,
- Excite disaffection, towards the Government established by law
The words or signs or visible representation or other means exercised which
brings or attempt to cause hatred against the Government established by law is a
direct form of Sedition and an offence under Section124A, the term words' and
signs' explain themselves but whereas the term visible representation has no
definite explanation. It includes all the media, movies, concert; it just means
any form of communication which is visible to the eyes.
The next word or
indicate the universality of how the offence committed. For example,
the Supreme Court, in the case of Raghubir Singh v. The State of Bihar, held
that distribution or circulation of seditious materials will also constitute
. And similarly, the law is not concerned with just mere feelings of
hatred or contempt, which may lie in the hearts of the persons. The code cannot
fathom the innermost feelings of any person and punish them for the same.
However, the law steps in, when this inner feeling of hatred or contempt excites
disaffection against the state.
The term disaffection,
which is the most debated word in this entire provision
it has been a subject matter of controversy in courts; moreover, explanation 1
to this provision states that disaffection includes disloyalty and all feelings
of enmity. The constitutional bench entirely explained in Kedar Nath v. The
State of Bihar
, where the bench relied upon the words of the then Chief
Justice of Calcutta High Court, Sir Comer Petheram, who decided the first
Sedition case in India, he interpreted the term disaffection plainly as absence
of affection. It means hatred, enmity dislike, hostility, contempt, and every
form of ill-will to the Government.
If a person uses either spoken or written
words, calculated to create in the minds of the persons to whom they are
addressed a disposition not to obey the lawful authority of the Government, or
to subvert or resist that authority, if and when occasion should arise, and if
he does so intending to create such a disposition in his bearers or readers, he
will be guilty of the offence of attempting to excite disaffection within the
meaning of the Section though no disturbance is brought about by his words or
any feeling of disaffection produced by them.
It is sufficient for the Section that the words used are calculated to excite
feelings of ill will against the Government and to hold it up to the hatred and
contempt of the people, and that they were used with the intention to create
In order to understand this provision in detail, one has to understand the
difference between a Government formed by a particular ruling party or the
bureaucracy running the Government from the term Government established by
The term Government as defined in Section 17 of IPC, which defines
Government as the Central Government' or the Government of the State,' cannot
be equated with the term Government established by law.
established by law has to be distinguished from the persons for the time being
engaged in carrying the administration. A citizen encompasses a right to mention
or write whatever he likes about the Government, or its measures, by way of
criticism or comment, so long as he does not incite people to violence against
the Government established by law or to create public disorder. For instance, it
is common in India that comments passed on political parties even against the
ruling parties, but the criticism or comments against the ruling parties cannot
consider as disaffection against the Government established by law.
The Court has, therefore, the duty cast upon it of drawing a clear line of
demarcation between the ambits of a citizen's fundamental right guaranteed
under Art. 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and the power of the legislature to
impose reasonable restrictions on that guaranteed right in the interest of,
inter alia, the security of the State and public order. Hence, we can say that
to be prosecuted for the crime of Sedition a person must have some intention to
overthrow the Government by violent means.
Article 19 and Sedition: Harmony or Conflict?
As law evolves with time and circumstances prevailing in the country, there may
transpire preponderate disparities between differing provisions of the acts
enacted by the legislature. Article 19(1)(a) induces freedom of speech and
expression to the people and section 124-A IPC is contemplated as conflicting
the freedom that Article 19 seeks to confer. Not only section 124-A is sighted
at speech and expression of denizens that are concentrated in engendering detest
among the public, it has a wider ambit. Maneuvers of individuals that would
result in waging war against the state, Collecting arms for the purpose of
Assaulting the president or governor would constitute sedition.
Stimulation of religious insults is an integrant of sedition. In a diversified
country like India, the existence of sedition laws is incumbent to obviate any
form of unrest in communal. The exigency for sedition laws is imperative to
obliterate anti-national and terrorist elements, wherein this may cause unrest
For Article 19 and section 124-A to administer in a harmonious manner, the
inference and applicability of 124-A have to be obliterated which would also
corroborate the communal to employ their freedom endowed under Article 19
without ambiguity. In Ram Nandan v. State of U.P.
Constitutionality of 124-A
was held to be ultra vires Article 19(1) as the said proviso was identified to
be unreasonable failing to be classified under reasonable restrictions as
bestowed upon Article 19(2). As a result, the Allahabad High Court held 124-A to
be unconstitutional and ultra vires Article 19(1) of the constitution. This
ruling of the High court identified and resulted in the infliction of conflict
between Article 19(1) and Section 124-A of IPC.
The scope of applicability of sedition laws has been bounded by the Supreme
Court in the case of Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar
. Incitement of Violence
was regarded as an imperative ingredient for the actions of individuals through
their speech and expression to constitute sedition. As a result, S.C. constitutionalised 124-A by including it under Reasonable Restrictions endowed
under Article 19(2).
This inclusion suggests that a mere criticism or an opinion
that is drafted or rendered by any citizen does not by itself compute sedition
unless such speech or expression is directed towards the promotion of hate or
violence among the general public to turn them against the government. If there
arises conflict or disparities between two or more provisions of the same act or
that of any different acts, the courts should seek to harmoniously interpret the
provisions to protect the integrity and the purpose of the conflicting
The apex body has reduced the scope and applicability of 124-A
whereby restricting its implications to validate its constitutionality and also
established harmony between Article 19 and Section 124-A. The essential
ingredients laid down by S.C. have tremendously paved the way for both the
provisions to exist and operate in a harmonious manner without conflicting each
Exploitation Of Sedition Laws By The Government:
Sedition and its associated laws cushion the interests of the government and not
the country. The government fluctuates with differing ruling parties and as a
result, the interests and functioning of the government change and synchronize
with the ruling party. In India, it is a customary practice to protect the
party's interests than to shelter the general interest of the public. As a
result, major means resorted by the communal that causes disinterest to the
government's policies or interests are classified to be an act of sedition. The
degree of such abuse is greater in significance which reflects the clear misuse
of power of the government.
Speeches or actions meager in essence whose
repercussion dissatisfies the government is often coined and termed to be of
seditious nature. Occurrences, where a citizen intimating his views or rather
exercising his free speech, is prosecuted for the execution of such offence.
Although the National Crimes Records Bureau showcases fewer conviction rates for
sedition, the end means of charging without genuine ground is prevalent.
Communal face discrimination and ill-treatment in the semblance of sedition just
by uttering a slogan that displeases the government. The government, shadowed by
the ruling party, manipulates the non-bailable crime to secure its own personal
agendas preventing the denizens from raising their voice against its own
International Standpoint On Laws Of Sedition:
India is a signatory as well as had ratified the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights (ICCPR). As law prescribes a binding status to our country
for ratifying treaties, the three organs of our country along with the people
have a legal responsibility and duty flowing through our constitution to duly
follow and abide by the articles and provisions of the ratified treaties.
the absence of domestic laws, Indian courts have often resorted to international
conventions as held in Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan
 for the purpose of
framing a domestic law. Different countries have varied and differed outlooks
when it comes to domestic laws. The International standpoint on sedition laws of
The notion of Seditious libel
was prominent in the king's era during the
17th century wherein the kings had sovereign powers. Seditious libel revolved
around any form of communication or exertion made to defame or criticize the
government, and the state had hegemony through contriving it.
The De Libellis
Famosis case identified the indictable complexion of this bigoted law
wherein a person was bound for sentence even if found performing fair and truth
endeavor. Modern democracy paved the way for the enactment of refined seditious
libel in the UK wherein any act that resulted in violence and public disorder
was penalized. Section 73 of the Coroners and Justice Act, 2009 expunged
sedition and it was annulled in the UK as a result.
The United States of America:
Laws that infringe freedom of expression of the denizens were not advised to be
enacted by the first enactment. However, it was debated that the first enactment
sought to prevent the enactment of sedition laws. Such arguments ended in futile
as the implementation of the Sedition Act, 1798 discerned sedition as a
transgression. The plausibility of the act was defied in Schenck v. United
 wherein sedition was adjudged justifiable by applying the clear and
present danger test. A series of judgments, in the later years, narrowed the
scope and applicability of seditious libel to comfort freedom of speech and
Sedition was reckoned as a transgression with the execution of the Crime Act,
1920 which encompassed provisions that concluded a strict and broader sense to
the term Sedition. There was a deprivation as to what would comprise and
amount to sedition as the applicability of the offence was in a broader sense
and there was no boundary to contain it. The Hope Commission governed the
definition of sedition and fabricated a circumference for it to operate in a
With the intervention of the Gibbs Committee, the scope and
pertinence of sedition were rudimentary to those acts that incited violence
consisting of a motive of suppressing and overthrowing the government. The term
Sedition was replaced and re-coined with Treason in federal criminal law by
the Australian Law Reform Commission due to the 2005 amendment to the Anti
The offence of sedition was inserted into the Criminal Code of Canada from the
English common law. Section 59(1) to (3) of part II of the Criminal Code extends
the essence of this crime to those activities or instances that contain a
seditious intent. Section 61 of the Code dictates the punishment for seditious
libel with imprisonment not exceeding fourteen years. Since Canada is a monarchy
turned democratic country, the offence of sedition is viewed against Her
majesty's, her heirs and also against the government of democratic Canada.
Sedition is charged against persons in three stages.
The first stage involves
the uttering of words or speech, the second stage involves Seditious libel
such speech and the final stage involves such words to give rise to
. In cases of sedition, the burden of proof lies on the crown and
must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Even though the offence of sedition
contains severe implications, no citizen has been prosecuted for sedition since
1951 with the landmark judgment in the case of Boucher v. The King
The British colonial era paved the way for the foundation of seditious laws in
Malaysia. The British enacted the Seditious First Act in 1948 where it was aimed
to silence dissent against colonialism and British rule and the British
perceived it as a legal restriction to prevent the citizens from erupting
against their rule. The major ingredient of any crime lies with the mens rea and
actus rea which are also the deciding factors upon the commitment of a crime.
Seditious laws in Malaysia are not concerned with the intention of the accused
or rather the mens rea is omitted to be acknowledged upon the rendering of
sedition. The law prescribes seditious tendency
as a vital constituent to be
taken into account while evaluating the crime of sedition.
Conclusion: A Democratic Execution
The true essence of democracy lies in the transparency of its government and in
the way where its populace is able to speak freely without any hindrance. The
implementation and existence of sedition laws are paramount but the execution of
such laws requires clarity and justice.
The thin line of distinction between
hate speech and sedition must be recognized to elude disparities and unrest. The
laws invite careful interpretation that adjudges the legislative intent behind
invoking sedition laws in the Penal Code.
The scope and ambit of sedition laws
are wider in nature as a result of which the misuse of the laws. A reduction in
the scope and application of sedition laws would reduce the misuse by the
government. Laws are made for the communal and any government suffers from an
obligation to protect and safeguard the interests of the public, sedition must
also be viewed in this approach.
- Codification of the Criminal law- Treason, Sedition and Allied Offences
published on 10/05/1977
- R v. Chief Metropolitan Stipendiary (Ex Parte Choudhury),  1
- (1873) 16 Cox's Criminal case 355.
- (1909) 22 Cox's Criminal case 1.
- Stephen, commentaries on the Law of England, vol IV
- A.I.R. 1987 S.C. 149
- 1967 A.I.R. 955
- Indra Das v. State of Assam, (2011) 3 S.C.C. 380; Arup Bhuyan v. State
of Assam, A.I.R. 2011 S.C. 957.
- AIR 1959 All
- Supra at 7.
- Air 1997 SC 3011.
- 77 Eng. Rep. 250 (K.B. 1606) (Coke).
- 249 U.S. 47 (1919).
-  S.C.R. 265
- Gautham K, II year, B.com.LL.B (Hons.), SASTRA Deemed to be University,
- Rabi Anandh R S, II year, B.com.LL.B (Hons.), SASTRA Deemed to be University,