This article is written by SANJANA SUMAN, a student of Amity law School, Amity University Jharkhand Ranchi. This article is a critical analysis of the Sedition Laws in India. The concept of sedition as given in Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and major supreme court decisions.
In 2016, three students from Jawaharlal Nehru University (Kanhaiya Kumar, Omar Khalid, and Anirban Bhattacharya) were arrested by Delhi police for chanting anti-national slogans for bringing the sedition law to light. The state and the centre frequently use sedition accusations against reformers, artists, and dissenters in order to silence their political disagreement and bring the rest of the country into line.
During the period of independence, the law of sedition was frequently debated. Recent claims of sedition levelled against CAA and NRC demonstrators have generated debate. Amulya was imprisoned in pre-trial custody for 14 days after yelling “Pakistan Zindabad” at an anti-CAA rally in Bangalore. On January 2020, the state police arrested the mother of a pupil and the administrator of a school in Karnataka on treason allegations. Then one of his students delivered a project that allegedly violated the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Registry of Citizenship (NRC).
The Sedition Law in India
Section – 124(A) of the Indian Penal Code explains “Sedition” in vast and broad terms. It reads: “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 aims to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life.” While it covers the crimes that come under the law it does not give a precise definition of the term ‘sedition’ itself.
In the common definition, sedition refers to inciting people to rebel against the government. Sedition encompasses any acts and behaviours that aim to incite dissatisfaction or disloyalty against the Constitution, the Government, or Parliament in order to cause a public disturbance or lead to civil war, as well as all efforts to encourage public conflict or disorder in general. In Rex v. Adler the court defined the law of sedition in the following words, “Nothing is clearer than the law on this head – namely, that whoever by language, either written or speaking in a way that incites or encourages others to use physical force or violence in some public matter related to the State is considered seditious libel. The word “sedition” signifies a disturbance, an insurgency, a public commotion, or an outrage in its ordinary natural sense; it involves violence or illegality in some manner…”
Punishment for the Offence of Sedition
- Sedition is a crime that cannot be punished with a fine. The penalty under Section 124A can vary from a three-year jail sentence to a life sentence, plus a fine.
- A person accused under this statute is prohibited from working for the government. They are forced to live without their passports and must appear in court whenever they are summoned.
Historical Background of Sedition Law
- Sedition laws were created in 17th-century England, when legislators felt that only positive government beliefs should be allowed to exist, as negative beliefs were harmful to the government and monarchy.
- The law was enacted in 1837 by British historian-politician Thomas Macaulay, but it was mysteriously omitted from the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in 1860.
- Section 124A was added in 1870 as a result of an amendment proposed by Sir James Stephen, who saw the necessity for a special section to deal with the infraction.
- It was one of several harsh laws adopted at the period to silence any dissenting voices.
Constitutionality of Sedition in India
The first case that tackled the constitutionality of Section 124-A was Ram Nandan v. State of U.P. The Allahabad High court held that section 124-A of the IPC is ultra vires as it violates Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution. Section 124-A was believed to limit freedom of speech and strike at the constitution’s core foundations.
However, this was overruled in the case of Kedarnath Das vs State of Bihar. The court in this case held that this section should limit acts involving intention or tendency to create disorder or disturbance of law and order or incitement of violence. This part, however, is in violation of Article 19 if it is utilised arbitrarily.
It should also be noted that in 1951, Article 19(2) was amended to add the expressions “in the interest of” and “public order.” This amendment put a statutory limit on freedom of opinion and speech. In Kedarnath Das vs. State of Bihar, the Court held that the phrase “in the interest of public order” has a broader meaning and can be read to cover not just conduct that are likely to disturb public order, but also Section 124 – A. It was also decided that any legislation adopted in the sake of public order can be protected from being declared unconstitutional. The Court further decided that the right provided by Article 19 (1) (a) is subject to the limit set forth in Article 19 (2), which includes the following: First and foremost, state security. Second, there are cordial contacts with other countries. The third point is public order. Fourth, morality or decency. Article 124 – A of the IPC falls under the category of security of the state and public order because it punishes any spoken or written words or visible representation that has the effect of inciting or attempting to incite hatred, contempt, or disaffection against “the Government established by law.”
Major Supreme Court Decisions on Sedition Law
- The SC highlighted debates over sedition in 1950 in its decisions in Brij Bhushan vs the State of Delhi and Romesh Thappar vs the State of Madras.
- The court ruled that a regulation restricting speech on the grounds that it might disrupt public order was unconstitutional in certain situations.
- It also stated that disturbing public order is tantamount to undermining the State’s foundations or threatening its overthrow.
- Thus, these decisions prompted the First Constitution Amendment, where Article 19 (2) was rewritten to replace “undermining the security of the State” with “in the interest of public order”.
- In 1962, the SC decided on the constitutionality of Section 124A in Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar.
- It affirmed sedition’s legitimacy, but only applied it to “acts involving the intent or tendency to cause disruption, disturbance of law and order, or encouragement to violence.”
- These were distinguished from “extremely forceful speech” or the employment of “vigorous language” critical of the administration.
- In 1995, the SC, in Balwant Singh v’s State of Punja, held that mere sloganeering which evoked no public response did not amount to sedition.
Short term measures
- All speech-related offences should be made bailable, as this would reduce the negative impact of utilising arrest and incarceration to harass people exercising their rights under Article 19(1). (a).
- The offences should be rendered non-cognizable so that the police can be held accountable if they act on politically influenced allegations.
- In the case of violations of Sections 153A (“promoting hatred between different groups on the basis of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and committing acts harmful to maintaining harmony”), and under Section 196(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, it is required to acquire prior government sanction before taking cognizance of the offences under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code. It has to be extended to the offence of sedition under Section 124A.
- In the case of hate speech, it is critical to place the burden of proof on people who claim their feelings have been wounded rather than taking their claims at face value. Finally, courts must begin to take action against people who file malicious charges against free speech actions.
Democracy is meaningless without freedoms and sedition as defined and administered by the police and governments, is a denial of it. However, before the law loses its significance, the Supreme Court, as the guardian of citizens’ fundamental rights, must intervene and assess the law, perhaps declaring Section 124A illegal. The term “sedition” should be used cautiously. It’s like a cannon that shouldn’t be used to fire a mouse, yet cannons are required by the arsenal, usually as a deterrent and occasionally for firing.
 Section 124(A) of The Indian Penal Code, 1872
 Rex. v. Adler (1909) 22 CCLC
 Ram Nandan v. State of U.P. AIR 1959 All 101
 Kedarnath Das vs State of Bihar AIR 1962 SC 955
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