All States have the same right of self-preservation as their subjects, and
States like men have from time immemorial, exacted safeguards for their own
preservation and protection. Sedition is an offence against the State. Other
such offences include- waging war or treason against the Government (Sec. 121),
assaulting high officers like the President/ Governor (Sec. 124), and, suffering
escape of or harbouring a State prisoner or a prisoner of war (Secs. 128-130).
Sec. 124-A: Sedition
Sedition consists in attempt made, by meetings or speeches or by publications,
to disturb the tranquility of the State, which do not amount to treason. As per
Sec. 124- A, the following are two essentials of sedition:
- Bringing or attempting to bring into hatred or contempt, or exciting or
attempting to excite disaffection towards the government established by law
- Such act or attempt may be done by words (either spoken or written), or
signs, or visible representation, or otherwise.
The expression disaffection
includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.
To constitute an offence under Sec. 124-A, it is not necessary that one should
excite or attempt to excite mutiny or rebellion or any kind of actual
disturbance, it would be sufficient that one tries to excite feeling of hatred
or contempt towards the government.
The essence of the offence of sedition is
incitement to violence; mere abusive words are not enough and that public
disorder or the reasonable anticipation or likelihood of public disorder is the
gist of the offence (Niharendu v. Emperor
In Kedarnath Singh v. State of Bihar
(AIR 1962 SC 955), the Supreme Court upheld
the constitutional validity of Sec. 124-A. It was held that only acts which
constitute incitement to violence or disorder would be punishable under this
section, and acts not having such tendency are not punishable.
section does not violate Art. 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution.
Both successful and unsuccessful attempts to excite disaffection were placed on
the same footing. So even if a person had only tried to excite the feeling he
could be convicted. Whether any disturbance or out-break was actually caused by
such attempt was absolutely immaterial (Queen Empress v. Bal Gangadhar Tilak
(1897) 22 Bom 112).
Other essential ingredients of the offence of sedition are:
- To urge people to rise against the Government, or not to obey the lawful
authority of the Government, or to subvert or resist the authority amounts
to disaffection. However, in (Emperor v. Beni Bhusan Roy (1907) 34 Cal 991), the
accused incited the people to attain Swaraj. It was held that Swaraj did not
necessarily mean exclusion of the existing Government, but its ordinary
acceptance was Home Rule under the Government. Therefore, it did not amount to
- Disaffection may be excited in a number of ways. Writing of any kind,
poem, drama, story, novel or essay may be used for this purpose. But
seditious writing, if it remains in the hands of the author or unpublished
does not constitute this offence because publication of some kind is
necessary. However, this publication may be made in any manner, as for
instance, by post. It can even take the form of a woodcut or engraving of
- Not only the author of seditious matter but also whosoever uses in any
way words or printed matter for the purpose of exciting feelings of
disaffection is liable. Thus, the printer, the publisher, the editor or the
owner/proprietor of the press of a seditious publication is also liable like
the author unless he proves that he was absent and was not aware of the
contents of the paper (lack of knowledge). However, it is no defence to show that the seditious articles are
merely copied from foreign newspapers as items of news. Likewise, re-publication
of a seditious article, used as an exhibit in a case of sedition, is not
justifiable. Similarly, an editor is liable for unsigned seditious letters
appearing in newspapers.
- In considering the intention of the accused, the time, the place, the
circumstances and the occasion of publication, all are important. It is
necessary to take into consideration the state of the country and of the
public mind at the date of publication.
Bona fide Criticism of Government Permissible
Sec. 124-A lays down that comments expressing disapprobation of the (i) measures
of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, or
(ii) administrative or other action of the Government, without exciting (or
attempting to excite) hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute
Thus, the strong words used to express disapproval of the measures or policies
of Government with a view to their improvements or alternatively lawful means
would not come within the section.
Similarly, to suggest a change in the form of Government; or any agitation for
the repeal of an Act or an attempt to remove from power the ministers in office
in any State do not amount to sedition if no unlawful means are employed.
Likewise, a general criticism of certain officers cannot be deemed to be a
criticism of Government, because they are only individuals different from the
abstract conception which is Government.
Punishment for Sedition
Sedition is a substantive offence, punishable under Sec. 124-A, which provides
for punishment of:
- life-imprisonment, to which fine may be added, or
- imprisonment up to three years, to which fine may be added, or
- fine only. Thus, the amount and intensity of disaffection is material in
dealing with the question of punishment.
Authentication No: JL02089756106026-720