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India's Law of Sedition: A Critical Analysis

The recent use of sedition laws has brought up new concerns about their undemocratic nature and the legality of them in the current constitutional democracy. It is regrettable that these regulations have persisted even after colonial rule has ended. The review of how the sedition laws have been applied by the various Indian courts demonstrates how outmoded they are in today's society and offers some recommendations for its implementation. All citizens have the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression in a democratic nation like India. Although the law of sedition may be used to reasonably restrict this privilege, its scope is a crucial issue.

Concerns regarding the undemocratic nature of sedition laws and their legitimacy under the modern constitutional democracy have grown as a result of their recent application. It is terrible that these laws still exist today, even though colonial control is no longer in effect. Reviewing how the various Indian courts have implemented the sedition laws reveals how outdated they are in today's culture and makes some suggestions for its application. In a democratic country like India, everyone has the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. Although this right may be legitimately limited by the legislation against sedition, its breadth is a key concern.

What Is Sedition Law?

Sedition is defined as an act by "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 toward the Government established by law in India." This definition was drafted by British historian and politician Thomas Babington Macaulay in 1837.

The British Colonial government implemented the Sedition charge in Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code in 1870 primarily to censor the writings and speeches of well-known Indian freedom activists. Leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Lokmanya Tilak, and Jogendra Chandra Bose were prosecuted for sedition for their criticisms of British rule, and their writings were repressed.

Sedition is a non-bailable offence under section 124A, and it carries a sentence of three years to life in prison as well as a fine. The government seizes the accused person's passport and forbids them from holding a position in the government. By the way, the United Kingdom abolished the sedition charge in 2010.

What Is The Opinion Of The Supreme Court About The Sedition Law?

Sedition is a colonial law, as Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana noted in July 2021. It restricts liberties. It was applied to Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi. Do we still need this statute after 75 years of independence? Speaking on behalf of the Centre, he said this to K.K. Venugopal, the attorney general, and Tushar Mehta, the solicitor general.

The prosecution rate for violations of Section 124A of the IPC has historically been relatively low, he continued. The executive branches abuse their authority.

The Kedar Nath Ruling On Sedition

A five-judge Constitution Bench overruled previous high court rulings and upheld the constitutionality of IPC Section 124A. However, the court attempted to limit its potential for abuse. The court ruled that criticism of the government cannot be considered sedition unless it is accompanied by an incitement or call to violence. The ruling limited sedition only insofar as seditious speech incited "public disorder," a phrase not found in Section 124A but inserted by the court. The court also issued seven "guidelines" outlining when critical speech is not considered sedition.

The court stated in its guidelines for applying the new, more restrictive definition of sedition law that not all speech expressing "disaffection," "hatred," or "contempt" toward the state, but only speech likely to incite "public disorder," would qualify as sedition.

Following the Kedar Nath Verdict, "public disorder" was deemed a necessary component for the commission of sedition. The court ruled that mere sloganeering without a threat to public order does not constitute sedition. This decision in Balwant Singh vs State of Punjab (1995) reaffirmed that the true intent of the speech must be considered before labelling it seditious. In subsequent decisions, such as , the court held that a person can be convicted of sedition even if she is not the author of the seditious speech but merely circulated it.

The Allahabad High Court ruled in 2016 in Arun Jaitley v State of Uttar Pradesh that criticism of the judiciary or a court ruling former Union Minister Arun Jaitley had criticised the Supreme Court's 2016 ruling declaring the National Judicial Appointments Commission unconstitutional in a blog post would not amount to sedition.

The Law Commission of India and even the Supreme Court have issued reports emphasising the widespread misuse of the sedition law. The Kedar Nath guidelines, as well as a textual deviation in the law, place the onus on the police officers who register a case to distinguish between legitimate and seditious speech.

What Does The Law Commission Have To Say About Sedition?

According to the Law Commission of India 2018 report, the Constituent Assembly opposed including sedition as a restriction on freedom of speech and expression under the-Article 13. It saw the provision as a relic of colonial times that should not be seen in free India. The offence, however, remained under section 124A of the IPC.

"In a democracy, singing from the same songbook is not a measure of patriotism," the report concludes. People should be free to express their love for their country in whatever way they see fit. To do the same, one could engage in constructive criticism or debates, pointing out flaws in the government's policy.

The expressions used in such thoughts may be harsh and unpleasant to some, but that does not make the actions seditious." It argued that section 124A should be used only when the intent is to disrupt public order or overthrow the government through violence and illegal means.

The Commission suggests that section 124A of the IPC (sedition) be retained; however, it should be investigated whether the word "sedition" could be adequately substituted with another. Furthermore, whether the 'right to offend' qualifies as hate speech must be investigated, according to the report. It also advocates striking a balance between sedition and the right to free expression, as well as putting safeguards in place to prevent the sedition charge from being abused.

What Makes The Law A Serious Concern?

Sedition is not the same as merely criticising the government or expressing disdain for how it runs its affairs. In order for an act to be considered sedition, it must both inspire violence and have the aim to cause disorder/disturbance of the public peace or law.

The freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed by Article 19(a) of the Indian Constitution. It cannot be taken away since it is a fundamental right. It is not absolute, though, and is subject to reasonable limitations under Article 19(2) in the interests of India's sovereignty and integrity, the security of the nation, friendly relations with other nations, public order, decency, or morality, or in cases involving judicial disobedience, defamation, or the incitement of criminal activity.

Freedom of speech is one of a democracy's most crucial qualities. A democratic nation is one in which every individual has a voice and the ability to make decisions. Denying them their freedom of speech would destroy democracy as we know it.

All citizens in India have the freedom to talk freely and to express their ideas, but it is important to remember that these rights come with responsibilities as well. A democracy can only function as effectively as feasible when the State and its citizens carry out their respective obligations and prioritise the needs of the nation over those of the individual.

The people of this country choose its leaders. When asking questions, making suggestions, or expressing divergent ideas, the same people who chose those leaders and placed their trust in them must be heard.

Comment
Against this backdrop, there is no doubt that the sedition law should be repealed. It has become a weapon used to threaten anyone who speaks out or questions the government, and it has no place in 21st-century India. A tweet, a Facebook comment, participation in a protest, or a dissenting opinion are not acts of sedition and should not be interpreted as such.

In India, there have been two attempts to revoke it through private member bills in the last decade, but both have been thwarted by governments. The 21st Law Commission issued a consultation paper in 2018 seeking input on revoking sedition, but the commission's term expired before it could deliver its recommendations. Despite constant calls to remove it from the statute and mounting evidence of its abuse over the years, no government official has expressed a willingness to do so.

In a world where fearlessness is recognised as an international human right, one must wonder if India in 2022 should have such a regressive and clearly unconstitutional law as sedition, which seeks to send shivers down the spines of citizens. If we are to improve the democratic foundations of our country in the context of the evolving reality around us, there must be no room for sedition. Dissent, criticism, and differences of opinion are necessary for any democracy to function. On the other hand, witch-hunting those who question the current government harkens back to mediaeval times and totalitarian rulers. It is past time to usher in a new era of free speech and debate, and the sedition law must be repealed.

If the repeal scenario is not possible then there should be a balance between Sedition Law and the Right to Freedom of Expression. Freedom of Speech and Expression are necessary conditions for a person's full development. They are the cornerstones of any free and democratic society. As it gives meaning to life, freedom of speech and expression is the first and foremost human right, the first condition of liberty, and the mother of all liberties. However, freedom of expression frequently raises difficult questions, such as the extent to which the state can regulate individual behaviour. Because individual autonomy is the foundation of this freedom, any restriction on it is closely scrutinised. Although reasonable restrictions on this right can always be imposed in order to ensure its responsible exercise and that it is equally available to all citizens.

Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, defines sedition as an offence. The relevance of this section in an independent and democratic nation is constantly debated. There is concern that the government will use this provision to suppress dissent and fair criticism. The paper examines the evolution of sedition from its pre- and post-constitutional eras to what it is today. In addition, given that India is the world's largest democracy and freedom of speech and expression is the most celebrated fundamental right, the paper suggests questions that still need to be thoroughly discussed and debated.

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