By Swatee Shukla
The history of sedition law is linked with the freedom struggle of India. The first attempt to codify criminal law took place after the revolt of 1857. And the IPC was introduced in the year 1860 on the recommendation of the first law commission of India established in 1834 under the chairmanship of Thomas Babington Macaulay. When the IPC was introduced in the year 1861, there was no mention of the Sedition Law. The draconian law was introduced in the year 1870 after the Wahabi revolt. The law was famously used against Bal Gangadhar Tilak and later used against many freedom fighters. Since Britishers time till now, the government is abusing the powers of section 124A of IPC.
Section 124A IPC is the section under which one is charged with sedition. Sedition is conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of the state.
The present-day definition of section 124 A( sedition) states-: "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, a 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".
Explanations 1,2, and 3 under this section clearly states that if someone is speaking against the government or its policies or corruption this will not fall under the ambit of section 124A. In a democratic country like India, citizens should have the right to criticize the government established by law. It was in the year 1973 during the regime of Indira Gandhi this bailable and non-cognizable offense was amended into non-bailable and cognizable offense and made it more strident than it was at the time of its introduction.
So, this the need of time to amend section 124A of IPC and make sure to stop its abuse. . In a prominent case of Kedarnath Singh vs the State of Bihar,(1942), a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court made it clear that allegedly seditious speech or expression can only be punished, if there is an "incitement" of violence or public disorder. Many other subsequent cases clarified the phrase. On 24th March 2015, in Shreya Singhal vs Union of India. The Supreme Court drew a clear distinction between "advocacy" and "incitement", only in later cases, one can be punished. Therefore, one advocating a revolution, editing a social media toolkit, or even advocating a person or a group promoting violence, cannot be charged with sedition.
So does independent India need a British-era sedition law? The law has been used to suppress dissent in India particularly against marginalized communities and minorities, almost every government has used it against dissenters. This section has become a tool for executive tyranny. Sticking to the facts, very few who get arrested under this section, is convicted.
This section needed amendment immediately because opposition to the government is termed anti-national, making it easier for the police to make arrests citing any protest as a threat to national security.