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Offence Against State Under Law Of Crimes

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:
  1. Bringing or attempting to bring into hatred or contempt, or exciting or attempting to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India.
  2. 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 (1942) F.C.R.38).

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.

Therefore, this 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:

  1. 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 sedition.
  2. 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 any kind.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 sedition.

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:
  1. life-imprisonment, to which fine may be added, or
  2. imprisonment up to three years, to which fine may be added, or
  3. fine only. Thus, the amount and intensity of disaffection is material in dealing with the question of punishment.

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