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Sedition: the edition of an untamed political weapon

Indian Penal Code, the oldest law still in force in the country framed by Lord Macaulay is one of the finest laws made with a vision on the future. Several laws framed during the British era lost its need for existence as it was in question as to whether it would serve the purpose for which it was brought, in independent India.

Of these laws there are a few still in question as to its need for existence, Sedition being one of them, is the most talked about by the general public and various political organisations.

Section 124A of Indian penal code which states that:

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 in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which a fine may be added; or, with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which a fine may be added; or, with fine.

Considering the section above in simple terms, it means that any threat to national security or the integrity of the nation or to the sovereignty of India, or any acts that destabilises the government, or tries to overpower the government, the section is applied thereon.

Sedition During the British Era- History

Originally, the section relating to sedition had its place under section 113 of the Penal code in 1837 by Thomas Babington Macaulay. Later on, it was omitted from the original code. It was only in 1870 sedition was included in the code as section 124A. The history of sedition law is intertwined with the history of Indian Freedom Movement. Aforesaid this is a controversial topic of law, throughout the British Raj considering how the law was enforced and against whom it was enforced.

During the British Era, the Government in India under the Queen feared an uprising from the Muslim community in India after the suppression of the Wahabi movement which took place during 1820's to 1870's which greatly challenged the supremacy of British Raj.

Later on, throughout the rule, this law was passed down to suppress the people who fought in favour of national independence. Prominent leader's like Lokmanya Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi and others were all found guilty of sedition and were sentenced to imprisonment. Suhrith Parthasarathy, a lawyer and writer when asked about sedition said that “It was unquestionably a weapon at the hands of the colonial government.” which proved to be true even after the independence.

Sedition in Post-Independent India- Evolution

The section kept drawing criticism in independent India as well for being a hindrance to the right to free speech.

A period from the 1950's to the 2000, the nation witnessed a dramatic and a confused approach towards the sedition law. During the 21st century the sedition law received a great focus as it did during the British era, that it was used against the citizens who raised their voice and questioned the government, something similar to the British Raj.

Unquestionably the sedition law is being used as a political weapon by different governments over the welfare of the nation, just to quell their opposition. This has been used by the government as a tool of surveillance for checking any activity threatening their existence and stability. However, it is evident that voices are being shut especially that of the students, journalists, activists and also of the farmers, who are now being targeted for their protest against the policies of the central government.

Right to exercise the liberty and freedom to speak one’s mind guaranteed by the constitution is curtailed by this law.

For example, during 2011 in Chhattisgarh many human rights activists were charged with sedition for alleged links with the Naxalite movement. The movement is still being used to legitimize arrests made under this section.

In 2010, writer Arundhati Roy was sought to be charged with sedition for her comments on Kashmir and Maoists.

Binayak Sen who was an Indian doctor and activist was found guilty of sedition.

In February 2016 the then JNU student union president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on charges of Sedition for raising voice against the government who later went on to mark his presence in politics.

Also Amnesty International, an international NGO which focuses on Human Rights was booked under this sedition law for promoting enmity.

One of the recent cases of sedition was filed against Shashi Tharoor, a sitting MP of the Indian National Congress and 6 other journalists for allegedly instigating violence and spreading misinformation over a series of tweets during the violence from the tractor rally on 26th January 2021 in New Delhi.

Sedition under section 124A of the Indian penal code is undoubtedly a gamble on the basic Fundamental right of the citizens which at some point denies them their right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution of India.

Conclusion
In the Long-lost history of India, we can find traces of a society which was built on the concept of Democracy. Democracy is the absence of authoritarianism and the presence of Freedom, Equality, Liberty and Fraternity which are the basic principles. After the independence the makers of the constitution found the need for an absolute democratic system of governance.
Up until laws like sedition are alive in our society, we can undoubtedly question the sustainability of democratic values in the society, because the nature of sedition law is more like a political tool.

Indeed, sedition can be a virtue when used ethically and morally with a responsibility towards the state, it has admirable values when used at those circumstances, which fulfil the requirements as state under section 124A Indian penal code.

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