Is Sedition Law Threat To Freedom Of Speech
The most argumentative topic in India in today's time is the Sedition Law and
its enforcement in the Constitutional law Jurisprudence. Different views have
been presented regarding sedition ranging from complete abolition of the
provision to commending the sedition clause for more vigorous implementation. It
has also been advised that the provision must be used with defined limits in
order to strike a balance between national security and fundamental rights.
A fresh challenge has been filed in the Supreme Court regarding the offence of
sedition. The Supreme Court has directed both the Centre and the states to keep
abeyance on all the proceedings and trials regarding Section 124A of the Indian
Penal Code i.e. the offence of sedition till the central government reconsiders
the law. The provision was initially defended by the Supreme Court but later it
was told that the provision is being reviewed.
What Is Sedition Law?
The word 'Sedition' is defined under section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860
which states that "whoever, 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".
The Sedition charge was imposed by the British colonial government in order to
suppress the speeches and writings of many political as well as Indian freedom
fighters. The Sedition charges were imposed on Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar
Tilak and many more Indian freedom fighters in order to suppress their speeches
and writings and imprison them under the British colonial rule.
What Is The Punishment For Sedition Laws In India
The person who is charged under the Sedition law shall be punished with
imprisonment for life or with the imprisonment which may extend to 3 years or
fine or both. The offence of Sedition is a Non-Bailable offence and the person
charged by the same cannot apply for any government job. Their passports are
also seized by the government and the person has to present him/ she as and when
History And Evolution Of Sedition Law In India
The sedition law was drafted by the British Historian Politician Thomas
Babington Macaulay in the year 1837. The law drafted by Macaulay was absent from
the original draft in the year 1860 and then was further introduced in the year
1870 which was piloted by James Stephen.
The first case that was registered under the offence offence of Sedition was in
the year 1891, Queen-Empress v. Jogendra Chunder Bose & Ors (1892) ILR 19 Cal 35
in this case, the offence of sedition was charged on the editor of the Bengali
magazine regarding the British Government's policy on age of the Consent Act,
The publishers challenged the offence and said that only penalized writing of
seditious content must be considered under sedition and not the publication. It
was further held by the Calcutta High Court that the publishers cannot be held
liable as no seditious content has been written by them and the magazine has
been circulated for the target audience. Furthermore, the court has also
distinguished between the words 'Disapprobation' (strongly condemning or
criticism) 'Disaffection' (which means absence or alienation of affection).
It also concluded that people's rights should not be taken away since only the
word disaffection is penalized. A well settled example of early use of sedition
law was held in the year 1897. Bal Gangadhar Tilak (also called as Lokmanya) was
an Indian freedom fighter. He was charged with sedition for showing and exciting
disaffection against the Government in his article Kesari that he got published.
The landmark case that was held in this matter was Queen-Empress v. Bal
Gangadhar Tilak and Keshav Mahadev Bal, (1897) ILR 22 Bom 112, in the case Bal
Gangadhar Tilak was charged for provocating alleged speeches which resulted in
killings of two British officials. The single bench judge of the Bombay High
Court agreed with the definition of the word 'Disaffection' as previously
discussed in the case of Joginder Chander Bose and said that 'any bad words or
feelings' will be considered as a criminal offence irrespective of what its
extent is. Further the court held that the intention of the person is what
matters and must be considered on primary basis and should be understandable by
the audience on the basis of their context i.e. seditious speech.
After two decades, Bal Gangadhar Tilak was again tried in another sedition case
of Emperor v. Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1917) for the article. He wrote emphasizing
Swaraj for Indians. In the court he unambiguously admitted his loyalty towards
the British government but highly criticized the civil services and further
argued that both the British Crown and the civil services are two separate
entities. However, the contentions made by Tilak were rejected by the division
bench of the Bombay High Court stating that the power or authority is derived
from the state itself and no such ground exists. It was further held criticizing
the civil services of the state directly amounts to the offence of sedition.
"The liberal stance was taken by the court in this case, rejecting Tilak's
arguments on the word 'Disaffection 'that was given by single bench judge in the
same court in Queen-Empress v. Tilak and Bal, which earlier came out as a broad
definition of disaffection as anything but contrary to affection"
This judgment created an optimistic approach on freedom of speech and the impact
of the alleged Seditious speech will be will be considered after knowing the
intentions of the accused.
However, after the Independence in the year 1947, a lot of criticism was faced
on this provision as it was imposed in British Colonial Rule and also acted as a
barrier for freedom of speech. In the year 1951, the then Prime Minister of
India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru remarked by introducing the first amendment act in
the year 1951 in the parliament, "Now as far as I am concerned this particular
section (124A IPC) is highly objectionable and obnoxious and it has no reason
for both practical and historical aspects, in any laws that we might pass. The
sooner we get rid of this law is better. The matter can be delt in more limited
ways like every other country does and should have no place, because all of us
are having enough experience in variety of ways and apart from the logic of the
situation our urges are against it".
Revalidation Of Sedition Law
The law of sedition was declared unconstitutional by the Punjab and Haryana High
court in 1950s. Finally in the year 1962, a five bench decision was given in the
case of Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar 1962 AIR 955, the Supreme Court in
this case went on to clarify the correct position of the offence of Sedition by
upholding the Constitutional validity of the Section 124A. Hatred and insulted
speeches were made against the then ruling Indian National Congress by the
accused Kedar nath singh who was the member of the communist party of Bihar.
When the court examined the matter the court upheld the validity of section 124A
and also restricted the use of this law demarcating the difference when the act
of sedition can be used and when it cannot be used by the government. Section
124A was also read down by the Supreme Court in order to allow the criticism of
the government. However, the court also draws an attention between towards
"unreasonable distinction" between the governments itself.
The court also did not consider the report of the Press Laws Committee 1948, to
bring the law in India with British counterpart and also did not consider the
report of the press commission 1954 to repeal the law. It was also further
clarified by the Supreme Court that the law of Sedition can only be invoked when
the seditious speech has been made by the person and such speech would result in
public disorder. Since the accused has made speeches only against the party and
the state, therefore it did not amount to Sedition.
One more important decision was given in the case of Balwant Singh & Anr v.
State of Punjab 1995(1) SCR 411, in the Indira Gandhi Assassination case the
accused was charged with the offence of sedition for making hatred slogans in
favor of the Sikh majority. The two judge bench of the Supreme Court held that
the slogans raised by the accused does not amount to sedition as no disturbance
and violence observed in the in the public order. Therefore, Balwant singh was
The recent case held in the year 2021 is Vinod Dua v. Union of India 2021 SCC
Online SC 414 in this case Mr. Vinod Dua , in his YouTube programme the Vinos
dua show allegedly made hatred speeches against the Prime Minister Narendra Modi
and his Government. He further said that death threats and terror attacks were
used by the PM to obtain votes. It was also said that there is no adequate
facilities provided by the government and also no explanation was given for the
same by the government.
Of the personal protection kits (PPE). According to the F.I.R., Mr. Vinod Dua
has generated terror amongst the people and it would stir up the public
dissatisfaction forcing people to come out of the lockdown and stockpile
supplies which are not needed. A bench of Justice UU Lalit and Vineet Sarang of
the Supreme Court of India quashed the Sedition case against Mr. Vinod Dua
stating on the issue of protection of freedom of speech and expression of media
personnel saying "every journalist is entitled to protection under the Kedar
Nath Singh judgement".
What Is Being Done About The Misuse Of This Law?
Many Human Rights Activists and Civil rights organisations have demanded to
repeal Section 124A stating that this repressive colonial provision should not
have any place in this democratic country. According to them it jeopardizes
citizens Right to speech and it is brought in practice when there is no danger
to the public order.
On august 30, 2018 the law commission of India in its consultation paper has
published that the offence of sedition must be retained for protecting the
national integrity of the country and should not restraint the freedom of speech
i.e. Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution.
Since the commencement of the law of sedition it has only silent the voices of
the people in India. The rise in the Sedition cases over the past few years is a
clear example that authorities are using this exceptional law indiscriminately.
It is clearly visible that Section 124A is misused and is distinguished by
subjective application, vagueness and a tool for harassment of citizens for no
Hence, there is an urgent need to look upon the usage of the Sedition law in the
country and to ensure that the law is used within limits in order to maintain
the balance between the national security and fundamental rights.
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