According to Government Data, there were a total of 326 sedition cases filed in
India from 2014 to 2019, out of which only 6 were convicted. Further, a study of
sedition cases over the last decade reveals a 28% rise in such cases-in
violation of Supreme Court guidelines and that too particularly against critics
and protesters since 2014.
In the light of these recent developments, it is
essential to understand and realise that what is at the core of these
'colonial-era' laws. Therefore, in this Article, the focus will be on the bases
and objectives of Sedition laws in India and its impact and consequences in the
Evolution of Sedition Laws in India
The sedition law was used by the British to supress dissenting voices and
imprison our freedom fighters such as Mahatma Gandhi and many others who had the
courage to criticize the policies of the oppressive colonial regime. So, when
the Indian Penal Code was enacted in 1860, under the British Administration to
prevent any offences against the State; the term 'Sedition' was also introduced
in this very Code and was explained under Section 124-A of the Code.
Section 124-A of IPC 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 fine may be added, or with imprisonment which
may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine."
After the Independence in 1947, this law was criticised by many. One such
prominent critic of the Sedition Law was K.M. Munshi. He strongly put forward
that such an authoritarian law is a threat to democracy in India. He was a firm
believer of the fact that the true essence of democracy is criticism of
Government. It was mainly due to his persistence and grit that the word Sedition
was omitted from the Constitution.
First Amendment to the Constitution: This law was reinstated by the very First
Amendment to the Constitution passed by the then government which was headed by
Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, in 1951. Nehru and his government not only reinstated
the sedition laws through this amendment but also strengthened these provisions
by adding two more expressions as grounds for imposing reasonable restrictions
on free speech and expression. These expressions were: "friendly relations with
foreign state" and "Public order".
Recent trends in sedition casesA count and analysis of all sedition cases since 2010, reveals:
- 65% of nearly 11,000 individuals in 816 sedition cases since 2010 were
implicated after 2014 when Modi took office. Among those charged with sedition:
opposition politicians, students, journalists, authors and academics.
- 96% of sedition cases filed against 405 Indians for criticising
politicians and governments over the last decade were registered after 2014,
with 149 accused of making "critical" and/or "derogatory" remarks against Modi,
144 against Uttar Pradesh (UP) chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
- A 28% increase in the number of sedition cases filed each year between
2014 and 2020, Modi's time in office, compared to the yearly average between
2010 and 2014, the second term of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA)
- Much of this increase is due to a surge in sedition cases after protest
movements, such as those against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 and
the rape of a Dalit teen at Hathras in UP.
- During the anti-CAA protests, 22 of 25 sedition cases involving 3,700
people were filed in BJP-ruled states. After the Pulwama attack, 26 of 27
sedition cases involving 42 persons were filed in BJP-ruled states.
- Of the five states with the highest number of sedition cases, a majority
were registered during the BJP's time in power in four of them-Bihar, UP,
Karnataka and Jharkhand.
- In UP, 77% of 115 sedition cases since 2010 were registered over the
last four years, since Yogi Adityanath became the chief minister. More than half
of these were around issues of "nationalism": against those who protested the
CAA, for shouting "Hindustan Murdabad", allegedly celebrating Pulwama attack and
India's loss in 2017 ICC Champions Trophy.
- In Bihar, between 2010-2014, the majority of sedition cases related to
Maoism and counterfeit currency. After 2014, 23% of sedition cases were
against those who protested the CAA, against celebrities who spoke up against lynching
and intolerance and those who allegedly raised "pro-Pakistan" slogans.
Misuse of sedition law
Problems in Legal Interpretation
- As per the Kedar Nath judgment in 1962, the sedition law was supposed to
be applied in rare instances where the security and sovereignty of the country
is threatened. However, there are growing instances to show that this law has
constantly been used against political rivals, to suppress dissent and free
- Further, the data provided by National Crime Records Bureau suggests
that sedition cases have risen from 47 in 2014 to 93 in 2019, a massive 163
percent jump. However, the conversion rate from cases to conviction is a
mere 3 percent. This shows that the police and related state authorities are
using the sedition laws indiscriminately to create fear amongst the citizens
and silence any criticisms or dissent against the regime.
- The Sedition law is mainly vaguely defined.
- The terms "bring into hatred or contempt" or "attempt to excite
disaffection" can be interpreted in many ways and this empowers the police
and government to harass innocent citizens who are across the fence from
- Due to its poor definition, sedition law can be used maliciously by the
police to falsely accuse individuals as it does not clearly state which acts
are seditious and provides a broad outline of what can be classified as
- Judicial Interpretation: This issue was recently highlighted by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud while restraining the Andhra Pradesh government from taking
adverse action against two Telugu news channels booked under Section 124A
(sedition) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Justice Chandrachud remarked,
"Everything cannot be seditious. It is time we define what is sedition and what
- In another important case (PIL filed against Farooq Abdullah, the
former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir), Justice Chandrachud stated,
"Expression of views which is dissent and different from the opinion of the
government cannot be termed seditious."
- Similarly, Delhi High Court's ruling in the Disha Ravi case clearly
stated that the government cannot put citizens "behind bars simply because they
chose to disagree with the state policies" and "the offence of sedition cannot
be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of the governments."
These rulings by the judiciary clearly diverge from the interpretation of the
sedition law by the executive and show how the law is being indiscriminately
misused by them.
- A democracy requires citizens to actively participate in debates and
express their constructive criticisms of government policies. However, the
sedition laws have empowered the government to use this vaguely defined
provision as an instrument to oppress public opinion and indiscriminately
- Personal liberty and the right to free speech are hallmarks of liberal
democracy and sedition laws and their gross misuse attack the very
foundation of these liberties provided under the Indian Constitution.
- The need of the hour requires the judiciary to review this authoritarian
law and make efforts to provide a more firm and concrete definition to the
- Judiciary should try to classify that what acts should be treated as
sedition and what acts do not.
- The Judiciary should take initiative to curb the political oppression
expressed by the party in power over everyone who tries to speak against
It is highly important now that the government and the authorities must realise
that the SEDITION LAW is enacted to punish those who spread hate against the
country and not against a particular individual or a particular political party.
Now the time has come to make a liberal approach towards the freedom of speech
For a country to move forward, a constructive criticism of the
government is highly advised, If the government will not be made aware of their
shortcoming or the areas of improvement, the growth of the country will
definitely come to a standstill.
- Book: Ratanlal's and Dhirajlal's the Indian Penal Code of 1860.