Recently in May 2022, the Supreme Court decided to put a stay on the proceedings of sedition until the center reviews the age-old sedition law which includes treason. Treason is considered to be one of the gravest crimes ever committed. According to the Black’s law dictionary, “Treason is an offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government of the state to which the offender owes allegiance; or of betraying the state into the hands of a foreign power.”

In general, the term treason can be defined as an act done against the government to overthrow it. For instance, when a militant or a diplomat of a nation carries information about his own nation to the enemy country, the act can be called Treason. The person who commits the act is known as a traitor. Treason is considered to be one of the gravest crimes and the UN also agrees with that. India covers the punishment for the offence ‘Treason’ under section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code. Though the terms sedition and treason are a bit different from each other, treason is included.


The term Sedition is the offence performed against the status quo. It is considered to be a challenge against the government or an establishment. The act threatens the government or individuals in power and treason is an act that threatens the whole nation. Treason can be said a violation of one’s allegiance to one’s sovereign. However, the difference between the meanings of treason and sedition has blurred and now sedition also includes an act of terrorism and violation of public safety. The act of treason also comes under sedition laws.


Treason is codified under section 124A of Indian Penal Code, 1860. According to the section, Sedition is defined 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 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.”

The sedition law was firstly included by Lord McCaulay in the Indian Penal Code during the British era to stop the protests and revolts against the governance of the Crown and to punish the people or the officers betraying the government or the nation. The leaders like Gandhiji, Maulana Azad, Mohammed Ali and Shaukat, etc., were penalized for revolting against the British government to gain freedom for India.

One of the most notable trials was Queen Empress v. Bal Gangadhar Tilak1. Bal Gangadhar Tilak was arrested for writing articles in Kesari, a Marathi newspaper. He mentioned the bombings by the British officials and the unbearable violence caused by them. He further stated that this is the main reason behind the demand for Swaraj. Despite his logical and valid arguments, he was convicted and was sentenced a 6-year imprisonment and was fined Rs. 1000.

After the independence, the Constituent Assembly debated a lot regarding the inclusion of sedition. Sedition is an obstruction to the freedom of speech and expression which is guaranteed by the Constitution. However, many of the members have vehemently disagreed about it. During Indira Gandhi’s governance, sedition had become a cognizable offence in 1973 and it was decided that the police can arrest without a warrant in this offence.

It was stated by Supreme Court in Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras2, “Criticizing the government that arouses disaffection or bad feelings toward it, is not to be regarded as a justifying ground for restricting the freedom of expression and the press, unless it is such that it undermines the security of or tends to overthrow the state.” Justice Patanjali Shastri justified the liberal interpretation of the legislation by pointing out that the Constituent Assembly had left the word “sedition” out of the Constitution.


As aforementioned along with the cases cited above, the treason law i.e., Section 124A has been included by the British to suppress the protests against them. There have been many instances where section 124 A was used as a defense mechanism by the ruling government in India against the people who have spoken against them. The section is being used by the government to intimidate the journalists, activists, etc., to speak out their opinions.

Ram Nandan v. State of Uttar Pradesh3 was the initial case to address the constitutionality of Section 124A. The Allahabad High Court ruled that Section 124A of the IPC was extra vires in nature and infringed upon Article 19(1)(a). In Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar4 (1962), the constitutionality of Section 124-A was further contested before a Supreme Court Constitution Bench, with the main contention being that it violated Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. The Allahabad High Court’s verdict was overturned by the Supreme Court, which stated that no crime of sedition is proved under Section 124-A until the statements, whether spoken or written, have the power to alter or disturb public order by the use of violence. Unless the remarks are likely to incite violence, there is no offense.

In the recent National Crime Records Bureau (NRCB), the number of sedition cases from 2015 to 2020 is 356 and the number of people arrested under sedition are 548. Out of the registered cases, only 6 were convicted. The data regarding the sedition cases filed reports were collected and presented by NCRB since the formation of Narendra Modi’s government in 2014. When compared to the earlier stages of government, the cases of sedition which have been filed have reduced. It has also been observed that the ruling party has been misusing section 124A to its benefit.

The following are a few case laws:

In the case of Vinod Dua v. Union of India5, a First Information Report (FIR) was filed against a journalist named Vinod Dua for presenting the communal riots in Delhi on his YouTube channel. It was stated in the FIR that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had used terror incidents to obtain votes and also depicted the PPE kit unavailability during COVID-19 and also regarding the shipment of ventilators and sanitizers. Mr. Vinod Dua was arrested for causing public dissatisfaction and panic among the individuals who were supposed to be on lockdown due to the increasing number of cases under sections 124A and 505 of IPC.

The Supreme Court stated that the news that Mr. Vinod Dua has put forth had odd allegations charged against him. The court stated that it was Mr. Vinod’s job as a journalist to state the facts even regarding the migrants’ issues. The Hon’ble court further stated that the citizens have the right to criticize the actions of the government and the officials as long as their criticism doesn’t disturb the law and order in the nation. Hence, the allegations against him were levied.

Further, in the case of Rajat Sharma v. Union of India6, Farooq Abdullah in an interview by The Wire stated “whatever they are doing at LAC in Ladakh is all because of the abrogation of Article 370, which they never acknowledged, I am hopeful that Article 370 would be reinstated in J&K with their help”. He further talked about the restoration of Article 370 with China’s support. It was also stated by him that Indians do not want to be in India anymore and they would rather be dominated by the Chinese. 

The petitioners filed a case against Farooq Abdullah stating that he had amounted to a seditious act under section 124A of IPC, 1860. It was claimed by the petitioners that Mr. Abdul Farooq had persuaded the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir to join China. The Supreme Court of India, with a three-judge bench, had imposed a fine of Rs.50,000 on petitioners for filing a PIL against the CM of J&K. The bench further stated that any opinion or statement which differs from the center cannot be called seditious.

In the most recent case Disha A. Ravi v. State (NCT Delhi)7, also known as the Toolkit case, the climate activist Disha Ravi and another were issued non-bailable warrants for the two individuals. They were accused of supporting the pro-Khalistan organizations and stated that the toolkit was to defame India for the three farm legislations. The High court of Delhi stated that Disha had engaged in a peaceful protest and in a democratic nation, citizens can’t be imprisoned just on basis of disagreement or divergence of opinion with the policies of the government. Further, it was stated that the right to speech can be exercised by the global audience.


From the cases mentioned above, it can be inferred that there are many circumstances in which the ruling government is using Section 124A of IPC, 1860 as a weapon against people showing dissent. During the Citizenship Amendment Act enactment, there were many protests all over India against the bill from being passed by the Parliament. Around 3,872 people all over India in 26 cases relating to anti-CAA protests from 2017 to 2021.

Even in the case of Farm Bills, a huge number of farmers have come upon the streets protesting for their rights being violated due to the new farm laws which are yet to be formed. More than 100 Farmers were arrested under Sedition, section 124 A of IPC in Haryana. The first amendment of the Constitution of India has included the Fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(A). India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru has also stated that it was better to remove the sedition law as soon as possible from the Penal Code.


The Higher Courts of India have defined Sedition many times in numerous cases. With the increase in the number of cases during the subsequent years, the Supreme Court of India has decided to review and renew the colonial law. The sedition law in India is important to ensure peaceful governance in India. However, it disturbs the fundamental right to speech and expression where people are being charged for merely expressing their negative views and dissent towards the governmental policies.

India is a democratic nation and the curbing of the fundamental rights of the citizens is a violation of the Constitution itself. However, there is an exception for that too. The views of the individual or peaceful protest against the governmental policies can’t be amounted to sedition according to the Supreme Court. There is a dire need for the nation to stop the authorities in power to take advantage of section 124-A of IPC, 1860.


1 Queen Empress v. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, (1917) 19 BOMLR 211.

2 Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 124.

3 Ram Nandan v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1959 All 101.

4 Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar, 1962 AIR 955.

5 Vinod Dua v. Union of India, 2021.

6 Rajat Sharma v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 162.

7 Disha A. Ravi v. State (NCT Delhi), W.P. (C) 2297/2021.

This article is written by K. Mihira Chakravarthy, 1st year, B.A. L.L.B. student of Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University (DSNLU).