Sedition

GS2 – Significant provisions – Fundamental Rights.

  • Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code covers Sedition.

[Sedition = conduct or speech inciting rebellion against the authority of a state]

  • Section 124A is considered as a ‘reasonable restriction on right to free speech’.
  • Some incidents from the past and present prove that Section 124A is being misused to stifle dissent and criticism.
  • It is now widely used by the executive and political establishments to silence or discipline critics.

History

British Era Law
  • ‘Section 124A’ did not form a part of the IPC when it was enacted in 1860.
  • It was inserted into IPC by the IPC (Amendment) Act, 1870.
  • This provision was later replaced by Section 124A by an amending Act of 1898.
  • Under the old IPC, “exciting or attempting to excite feelings of disaffection” was considered sedition. [British Era Law]

Disaffection: dissatisfied with those in authority and no longer willing to support them.

  • But in Section 124A of IPC (1898 Act) “bringing or attempting to bring into hatred or contempt the Government of India” has also been made punishable.

Contempt: the offence of being disobedient to or disrespectful.

  • The main reason behind the continuation of Sedition act after independence was to prevent the misuse of free speech (reasonable restriction) that would be aimed at inciting hatred and violence.

Meaning of Sedition under Section 124A of the IPC

  • “Whoever bring or attempts to bring hatred or contempt, or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government shall be punished with imprisonment for life or three years.”
  • Explanation-1: The expression “disaffection” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity. [basic idea is to prevent misuse of right to free speech by anti-social elements]
  • Explanation 2: Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section. [This explanation clearly states that “dissent or criticism without fueling hatred or violence” cannot be considered as sedition]

[Disapprobation: strong moral disapproval.]

[Alteration: change in character, appearance, or composition.]

  • Explanation 3: Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the government, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section [This explanation clears states that sharp criticism of government policy and administrative action doesn’t come under sedition]

Kedarnath vs. The State of Bihar (1962)

  • The court, in this case, considered two possible interpretations of Section 124A.
  • It held that if sedition is understood to mean incitement of disorder, the section will lie within the ambit of permissible legislative restrictions (it is ok to charge with Sedition in this case) mentioned in clause (2) of Article 19, which guarantees freedom of expression.

Article 19 of The Constitution of India

19. Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech etc.

(1)  All citizens shall have the right

(a)  to freedom of speech and expression;

(b)  to assemble peaceably and without arms;

(c)  to form associations or unions;

(d)  to move freely throughout the territory of India;

(e)  to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and

(f)   to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business

[In simple terms, if someone tries to incite violence by misusing right to free speech, then his or her actions amount to sedition]

  • Without any tendency to disorder or intention to create disturbance of law and order by the use of words which merely create disaffection or feelings of enmity against the government, then such an interpretation would make the section unconstitutional.

[In simple terms, if someone tries to create dissatisfaction against the government without inciting violence, then his or her actions will not amount to sedition]

  • In very short, as long as there is no incitement of disorder or hatred or violence, there is no sedition.

Notable events – The anachronism of the sedition law and its potential as a tool for harassment.

  • Mahatma Gandhi, then serving as editor of Young India was arrested and tried under charges of sedition in 1922.
  • During his trial Gandhi stated, “Section 124 A, under which I am happily charged, is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen”.
  • In 2010, writer Arundhati Roy was sought to be charged with sedition for her comments on Kashmir and Maoists. (There is nothing wrong in having an opinion as long as it doesn’t incite hatred or violence)
  • In 2012, Aseem Trivedi, a political cartoonist, was sent to judicial custody on charges of sedition over a series of cartoons against corruption. (His actions did not incite any violence and the act was misused to suppress criticism.)
  • February, 2016: JNU students were charged with sedition.
  • August, 2016: Sedition case filed against Amnesty India [Amnesty India was protesting against “human rights violations in Jammu & Kashmir”].

Notable judgments

  • Court rejected sedition charges against Mr. Trivedi, reiterating that the charge of sedition under Section 124 A of the IPC could not be invoked to penalize criticism of the persons for the time being engaged in carrying on administration or strong words used to express disapprobation of government measures to improve or alter them by lawful means.
  • It has maintained that sedition was applicable on a case-to-case basis, if there was a clear and present danger of violence or a threat to public order.

Conclusion

  • Recent examples have proved that the law is prone to misuse (suppresses dissent and criticism) and is in conflict with established democratic principles of free speech.
  • Britain have abolished their anachronistic and draconian sedition laws. It’s time India joined their ranks.

[Anachronistic: the attribution of something to a period to which it does not belong.]

[Draconian: excessively harsh and severe.]

“Section 124A of the IPC is an anachronistic piece of legislation.” Critically analyze this statement.
“Section 124A of the IPC is a threat to democracy.” Critically analyze this statement.

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