Sedition law got its existence during the era of 1590 in England. It became a part of Indian statute by the arrival of British rule and got added to Indian penal code, 1870 as section 124A. But the visage of the law got redefined once when the case of sedition was charged on Bal Gangadhar Tilak, where the judge presiding over the trial widened the scope of law, equating disaffection to dis-loyalty. Again in 1922, Mohandas Karam Chand Gandhi was charged with sedition for showing disaffection towards British raj by instigating people against their rule via non- violent method.
Later, when India attained its freedom during 1947, there was wide discussion taking place on right to freedom; the use of sedition was debated. Personalities like Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Rajagopal Achari had supported the idea of sedition. But on the other hand individuals like KM munshi and Somnath Lahri was against the law of sedition. Eventually, the idea of sedition got abrogated from constitution but still exists in Indian penal code, 1870. The seditious charges are still applied on people in India but, in Britain where the law got its origin got scrapped in 2009. Case of Arundati Roy, Kanaihya Kumar, Aseem Trivedi, Umar Khalid, Dhaval Patel etc. are some examples. The debate of whether sedition is good or bad is still on going.
DEFINITION OF SEDITION
Sedition is defined as an apparent act like speech, organisation which can led to rebellious activities against the established order. It can also include demolition of constitution and can also often led to incitement of serious mutiny against the authorities. Sedition can be any type of furore even if it is not aimed at direct violence against the law. Seditious words in written format is called as seditious libel. A seditionist is defined as a person who is engaged in the interest of sedition.
SEDITION UNDER SECTION 124 A OF INDIAN PENAL CODE , 1870 : PROVISIONS AND PUNISHMENT
The term sedition is defined under 124 A of IPC as:
“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 shall be punishable with life imprisonment”.
It is considered as a reasonable restriction on freedom of speech which was drafted by Thomas Babington Macaulay. It is termed as a high value crime in Indian penal code. It is a cognizable offence in which the offender can be arrested without any warrant and it also allows the police to start investigation without any permission from court. Sedition is defined as disloyalty towards the authorities. The punishment available for the crime of sedition are it being a non- bail able offence, three years of imprisonment to imprisonment for life added with a fine. The person accused with the crime of sedition cannot apply for a government job or have to live their lives without passport and have to attend the legal proceedings whenever necessary.
An act is termed as seditious if it satisfies the following aspects:
- It should instigate hatred or discontent against the government.
- It should results in violence or public insurgency.
- It can include seditious libel: written or spoken sedition which includes posters etc.
- Raising of slogans against government.
- A speech of an individual that incite violence and disturbs public order.
DEFENCES AVAILABLE FOR THE LAW OF SEDITION
The possible defences that are available for sedition are:
- He/ she didn’t tried to attempt disaffection or disloyalty.
- The disaffection is not against the government.
- He/she is not the one who made the remarks against the Government.
SEDITION AND RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF SPEECH OF INDIAN CONSTITUTION
Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian constitution states that: “all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”. It also provides the right of a citizen to express their views through any modes like: writing, films, pictures etc. it is deemed as a basic, fundamental right of every citizens of the country. But these rights are not absolute and can be restricted by the norms of reasonable restrictions under article 19(2).
The sedition law was formulated during the era of British to impose restriction on people to not to speak against government policies. Many famous personalities like Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Mahatma Gandhi etc. was charged with the law of sedition. Currently there are various issues in which the law of sedition was misused to curtail people from excersing their right to speak against government policies. There is always an overlap that exists in case of sedition and article 19 (1) (a).
Long years back, during the drafting of fundamental rights, Sardar Vallabhai Patel urged to include sedition as a reasonable restriction under article 19 (2). Due to the majority opposition, the sedition charges were excluded from article 19 (2). Currently there are over 8 reasonable restrictions. They are:
- Sovereignty and integrity of the country.
- Public order.
- Contempt of court.
- Friendly relation with foreign states.
- Decency and morality.
- Incitement to violence.
From this we can learn that sedition is not a ground for restriction against the right of free speech. But at the same time it can bring a curtail to our right of free speech if it incite public order. Article 124 A of Indian penal code, 1860 states that:
“Any person by words either spoken or written or by signs or visible representation or otherwise bring or attempt to bring into hatred or contempt or execute or attempt to excite disaffection towards government established by law in India”. From this we can perceive that sedition will only be charged on a person, if his/ her words incite violence and disturbs public order.
- Shreya singhal v. union of India : this is the landmark case in the history of sedition law where the word “speech” was defined. In this case, Supreme Court stated that through you spoken or written words can propagate whatever they want to but doesn’t incite people into violence. If any such act had led to affect the peace and tranquillity of public then the person who committed the offence will be charged with sedition.
- Kedar nath Singh v. state of Bihar : in this case the constitutional validity of sedition law was questioned. Here, kedar nath Singh, former communist party leader of Bihar conducted a speech and he was convicted by first class magistrate on sedition charges. And the appeal before Supreme Court stated that the sedition law curbs the right to freedom of speech. In this case Supreme Court ruled that a person can say or write whatever he/she like about Government but with a condition of not inciting violence or not without disturbing public tranquillity.
Sedition law, a law which is over 150 years old are being successfully used by our successive Government. If we are taking a year in account, there are many cases reporting but only few of them reach the conviction stage. Many cases including Disha Ravi, Arundati Roy etc. was misused by police. Right to freedom of speech being a fundamental right will have an upper hand over sedition law. But if it ever curtails a person’s right to exercise their fundamental right, then the law should be scrapped.
- AIR 2015 SC 1523
- 1962 AIR 955
- CONSTIUTIONAL LAW OF INDIA BY DR. JN PANDEY
This article is written by Nourien Nizar student at Government law college, Ernakulum, Kerala.