Posted on: October 30, 2020 Posted by: Anvi Londhe Comments: 0
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Sedition and patriotism are antonyms of each other, to be fair they are rather two extremes of the same feeling that an individual carries in him about the country.  Yet when we consider the grey shades of the term, both of them are complementary unless there is fierce patriotism, sedition cannot be defined in its truest sense. Sedition from a legal point of view can be proved only in extreme cases.

 Sedition is covered under section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. The section states that “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 a fine may be added; or, with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which a fine may be added; or, with fine.”[1]

Sedition is a non-bailable offence and punishable with a minimum imprisonment of up to three years to a maximum of life term, along with payment of fine. Generally, sedition is an offence against public peace and tranquillity and is usually associated with public disorder. It was drafted and designed by Thomas Babington Macaulay and included in the IPC.

Section 124 A was included to the IPC during the colonial rule, to keep in check the growing resistance of Indian masses against the British rule. Since then the section has undergone multiple amendments, only to become more rigid and silence the voice of dissent. In the beginning, section 124A was not a part of the original IPC and was only introduced in 1870 in chapter IV of the IPC which deals with offences against the state. This induction came in the context of the rising Wahhabi Movement which aimed to overthrow the British rule. The sedition law was used to suppress the voice of the Indian freedom movement during the colonial period. So it was extremely likely that those who had endured suffering under the law would demand its removal from the IPC. But what happened was on the contrary. Some of the most important members of the Constituent Assembly wanted restrictions of seditious speech while others wanted total removal of any such restrictions. But even though the Constituent Assembly strongly argued on sedition and freedom of speech, the controversial section 124A of the IPC remains. In the post-colonial period, the law has been used to silence any discord, rebellions or political opposition right from the early years of the Republic.

Section 124A has been challenged in various courts in certain cases. The validity of the provision was upheld by a Constitution Bench in 1962, in Kedar Nath Singh vs. State of Bihar[2]. This judgment went into the issue of whether the law on sedition agrees with the fundamental right under Article 19 (1) (a) which guarantees each citizen’s freedom of speech and expression. The Supreme Court of India had ruled that: “ A citizen has a right to say or write whatever he likes about the Government, or its measures, by way of criticism or comment, so long as he does not incite people to violence against the Government established by law or to create public disorder.”

In a fairly recent case of silencing free speech through the use of sedition laws, two FIRs were filed against prominent journalist Vinod Dua for criticizing the central government’s handling of Delhi riots. The FIRs, filed by local BJP leaders, alleges that Mr Dua incited hatred and violence towards the Prime Minister and his government. Both the Delhi High Court, for the FIR registered in Delhi, and Supreme Court, for the FIR registered in Himachal Pradesh, has granted a stay on the arrest order while hearing Mr Dua’s plea seeking quashing of the FIRs. This further goes on to show the kind of threat that is looming on the right to freedom of speech and expression.

 Most of the recent cases concerning sedition have been based on the fact that the concerning parties had presented ‘anti-government’ statements. However, anti-government is an ambiguous term in a democratic setup, as the very basis of democracy is strong and firmly rooted in the fact that opposition is working in perfect collaboration with the law. Anti-government and anti-government policies have now become synonymous in the current socio-political situation that currently governs the nation. It is a sorry state that the current elections manifesto only borderlines on secularism and has strong views about a particular religion or group or ideology. In this scenario, defining sedition often overlaps the individual’s right to express or individual’s right to practice a religion. Anti-religious comments have been slowly begun being termed as anti-national. On this backdrop, sedition and the laws play a defining role in the maintenance of law and order situation.


[2] 1962 AIR  955

Anvi Londhe
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BALLB Student at ILS Law College, Pune

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