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Sedition and Freedom of Speech in India

Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code defines sedition as 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 and provides for punishment to the offender with an 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 history of Sedition laws in India can be traced back to the Indian Penal Code enacted in 1860 under the British Raj. It was added as an amendment to the Act in 1870. The British used this law to suppress the Wahabi Movement and imprison activists like Lokmanya Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi.

In 1961, the Punjab High Court held that sedition violated the freedom of speech guaranteed in Article 19, and declared it unconstitutional. Allahabad High Court proceeded to do the same, and the matter moved to the Supreme Court. Ultimately, in the case of Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar, the apex court upheld the constitutional validity of Section 124A.

Merely being critical of the government or expressing contempt on the functioning of the government does not amount to sedition. For an act to constitute sedition, it must be done an intention to cause disorder/disturbance of the public peace or law by resort to violence, and must incite violence.

Article 19(a) of the Indian Constitution provides for freedom of speech and expression. It is a fundamental right and cannot be taken away. However, it is not absolute and is subject to reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2) in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

One of the most important characteristics of a democracy is freedom of speech. A democratic country is one where the citizens have a choice, and the right to voice their choices. Denying them their right to express would take away the essence of democracy.

However, while all citizens have the right to speak freely and express their views and opinions, it must be kept in mind that with those rights, they also have certain duties to perform as citizens of India. A democracy can function in its best possible way only when the State and the citizens perform their own duties, and think first on national level, and then on individual.

The leaders of this nation are elected by the people. The same people who elect those leaders and put their confidence in them, when ask questions, give suggestions, or have conflicting opinions, must be heard.

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