Saturday, 29 January 2022

Law of Sedition

                                         The Law of Sedition

Sedition is defined under Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Article 19 clause 2 of the Indian Constitution talks about the exceptions for freedom of speech and expression given to a person. It authorizes the government to impose, by law, reasonable restrictions upon the freedom of speech and expression “in the interests of public order.” However, this law has been misused at its best for personal and political motives. There are growing instances to show that this law has been weaponised as a handy tool against political rivals, to suppress dissent and free speech. To know more about this law, we must know how it was made.


The revolt of 1857 gave rise to the codification of a criminal code made by Lord Macaulay for India that is the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860. The law of sedition was made by the British to suppress dissents and voices of the Freedom Fighters such as Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak that opposed the British government’s policies. Bal Gangadhar Tilak was the first person to be convicted of sedition in the colonial rule. 

                  After Independence, the constitution framers had devoted considerable time to weigh in on various aspects of this colonial law. One of the most vehement critics of the sedition law was K M Mushi who argued that such a draconian law is a threat to democracy in India. He argued that, “as a matter of fact the essence of democracy is criticism of Government.” It was due to his efforts and the persistence of the Sikh leader Bhupinder Singh Mann that the word sedition was omitted from the Constitution.

               However, this law was again imposed by the very controversial 1st amendment that was passed by the government headed by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. His government not only reimposed the sedition law through the first amendment in 1951 but also strengthened it by adding two expressions — “friendly relations with foreign state” and “public order” — as grounds for imposing “reasonable restrictions” on free speech.


This law has been a threat to the Indian Democracy.  The data provided by National Crime Records Bureau indicates that sedition cases have risen from 47 in 2014 to 93 in 2019, a massive 163 percent jump. Legally speaking, one of the main problems with the sedition law is that it is poorly defined. The terms “bring into hatred or contempt” or “attempt to excite disaffection” can be interpreted in many ways and this empowers the police and government to harass innocent citizens who are across the fence from them.

             In a landmark judgment of Kedarnath Singh V. State of Bihar, 1962, the constitutionality of the sedition law was challenged in the Supreme Court. Kedarnath Singh, member of a Communist Party, Bihar used ‘dogs’ for CID, ‘Goondas’ for Congress, he went on saying that he believes in revolution, which will come and in the flames of which Congress Leaders, zamindars and Capitalists will be reduced to ashes. However, there was no violence provoked by his statements but still a case of sedition was filed. Then Kedarnath Singh filed case saying it is ultra vires (beyond powers). Court held that it is intra vires (within powers) and considered it to be reasonable restriction. 

            In a recent judgment of Shreya Singhal V. Union of India, 2015, Shreya Shingal, inter alia was charged for Sedition for posting offensive comments against the government. The court in this case distinguished between ‘advocacy’, ‘discussions’, ‘incitement’.  It was also held that freedom of speech can be curtailed in only extreme circumstances. 


The law has been often used as a tool to stop the critics against the government. Freedom of speech and expression is the hallmark of a democracy that is being compromised due to the sedition law. A democracy requires citizens to actively participate in debates and express their constructive criticisms of government policies. However, the sedition laws have empowered the executive branch of the government to use the ambiguously defined provision as an instrument to regulate public opinion and indiscriminately wield power. Yet, what is more concerning is once arrested under the sedition law; it is extremely difficult to get bails as the trial process can be stretched for long. This leads to harassment of innocent people and induces a fear in others to speak against the government. The law of sedition should be amended to make safer laws to protect the innocent ones. 

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