This article is written by Gaurav Raj Grover.
Sedition simply means to encourage people to oppose the government or authority. When a person promotes hatred towards the government which results in people creating public disorder or violence is sedition. When an act promotes disaffection towards the government, the act is referred to be seditious. Sedition in its simplest meaning is any act or speech that leads to insurrection against the State.
There are different ways of sedition:
- Words (spoken or written)
- Visual representations such as signs, videos, pictures or cartoons.
A person causes violence or he encourages other people to create violence are the essentials of sedition. An attempt to make people disobey or resist the government in any way through acts of public disorder or violence can be an act of sedition.
For example, the owner of an industry can commit sedition by conducting a meeting with the employees to spread public nuisance to oppose the government or the laws or actions of the government.
History of Sedition Law in India
It all started when Macaulay, a famous British historian and Whig politician drafted Penal Code, 1837 of which Section 113 which is similar to Section 124A of IPC. The punishment was life imprisonment.
Afterwards, Sir John Romilly who was the Chairman of Second Pre-Independence Law Commission suggested to change the punishment for sedition as maximum punishment for sedition in England is 3 years and he proposed that in India, it should not be more than five years. Surprisingly, sedition was not included in IPC at first, it was later included as an offence under Section 124A through Special Act XVII of 1870. It was implemented to protect freedom of speech and expression from the strict common law of England. People were allowed to criticize the government until they show their willingness to obey the law, people showing an exciting feeling of disaffection and creating problems towards the government must be punished.
An amendment in 1898 changed Section 124A by adding “bringing or attempting to bring in hatred or contempt towards the government established by law is punishable” which was later amended by Act no. 26 of 1955 which substitutes the punishment as ‘imprisonment for life and/or with fine or imprisonment for three years and/or with fine’.
In order to prevent public meetings against the British Government, the Westminster Parliament started the Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act, 1907 to reduce the disturbance created by people because of the public meetings.
Before the Constitution, Section 124A was used to forcibly put an end to any political argument even if it’s right. Under the sedition provision, the British Government tortured many Nationalist Politicians, journalists and press owners as well as writers and poets.
- In the case of Journalist Jogendra Chandra Bose, he was charged with sedition for criticising the Age of Consent Bill and negative economic impact of British Colonialism. During the case, the Court acknowledged that there is a difference between English Law and Section 124A of IPC. Section 124A of IPC was milder than that of sedition in English Law. The seditious feeling was penalised in English Law.
It was concluded that Section 124A of IPC only penalised disaffection but not disapprobation. There was no verdict as the jury did not come with a unanimous decision. Further, the case was withdrawn when Bose apologised.
- In the case of Queen-Empress v. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Tilak was accused of sedition for publishing an article in the newspaper about the Maratha warrior Shivaji encouraging his move against the British Government. Interpretation of ‘disaffection’ was given through this case.
Disaffection means hatred, dislike, hostility, contempt and every form of ill will to the government. ‘Disloyalty’ can be the most related term collecting every possible form of bad feelings for the government.
The judgement of the case leads to the 1989 amendment to Section 124A of IPC and the interpretation gave disloyalty and feelings of enmity to sedition.
- Queen-Empress v. Ramchandra Narayan and Queen-Empress v. Amba Prasad followed the steps of the Tilak judgement.
In the case of Ramchandra Narayan, it was justified that any attempt to excite feelings of disaffection to the government is equal to an attempt to spread hatred towards the government established by law by creating political discomfort and making the people not to show their compliance towards the government.
Amba Prasad was in a similar situation when she published an article in a newspaper called ‘Jamu-ul-ulam’. With the help of the precious judgements and interpretation of disaffection, the Court concluded that any disapprobation will only be protected as free speech if it did not lead to disloyalty or not opposing the power of the authority of the state.
Disapprobation is acceptable when the person respects the lawful authority of the government and doesn’t undermine or resists the lawful nature of the government. The Court said that it is not compulsory that every action starts an actual rebellion or creates disturbance towards the government. So there must be a proper hearing to find out about the act that it actually induces any course of forcible resistance towards the government.
The second interpretation helped in protecting the fair and honest criticism of the policies of the government. After these cases and different interpretation of disaffection, the legislature introduced a third explanation of Section 124A to make the law more precise and also to remove any further misconceptions in interpreting the Section. While the British Government didn’t want to grant freedom of expression to the people and they didn’t want to limit the scope of sedition.
British Government started declaring the Communist Party of India, other trade unions and labour organisations illegal and seditious to completely end freedom of speech and expression in India.
- In the case of Kamal Krishna Sircar v. Emperor, the Court refused to conclude the speech given by him against the Government as sedition.
The Court held that suggesting some other form of government is not equal to bringing the present government into hatred or contempt. They both are completely different things. Which means writing speeches of this kind are not seditious. This case showed that the British Government were using sedition to suppress any kind of criticism towards them.
- In the case of Niharendu Dutt Majumdar v. King-Emperor, the Court shifted from the interpretation of Section 124A in Tilak’s case, the Court concluded that sedition is directly concerned with disturbance in public order and unless the speech creates a disturbance, it can not be called seditious. The Court held Majumdar not guilty and stated that all unpleasant words can not be considered as ‘actionable’.
- In the case of King-Emperor v. Sadashiv Narayan Bhalerao, the definition of sedition was overruled. The meaning of ‘public order’ was not considered while the literal interpretation from Tilak and later from Ramchandra and Amba Prasad was upheld.
Constituent Assembly Debates
Sedition provides a restriction on the freedom of speech and expression, which was Article 13 of the first draft of the Indian Constitution. So, sedition was seriously opposed by the Constituent Assembly. Sedition was a reminder of the British Rule which should not be present in Independent India. The complete Constituent Assembly agreed together to delete ‘sedition’ from the Constitution. There were many discussions during the debate.
- Shri M. Ananthasayanam Ayyangar said that it is a fundamental right of every citizen in the country to overthrow the government without violence, it can be achieved by persuading people, exposing their faults in the administration, their method of working and so on. Due to these reasons, the assembly agreed to remove the word ‘sedition’ but in situations when an entire state is about to get thrown or undermined through any force which causes public disorder is an offence.
- Shri K M Munshi said that sedition is an offence because government and law must be respected and obeyed, to avoid chaos and lawlessness. Public disorder or the willingness to create public disorder is the soul of the offence.
Intense debates and unanimous decision of the Constituent Assembly removed the word ‘sedition’ from the constitution.
Post Constitutional Development
Sedition was unacceptable to the drafters of the Constitution as a restriction on the freedom of speech and expression but it was present in Section 124A of IPC. There were many conflicts and decisions on sedition after Independence.
- In the case of Romesh Thapar v. the State of Madras, the Supreme Court declared that there is no restriction fall under Article 19(2) on freedom of speech and expression unless there are chances of public disorder or trying to overthrow the government.
- In the case of Tara Singh Gopi Chand v. The State, the Punjab High Court stated that Section 124A is unconstitutional as it violates the freedom of speech and expression mentioned under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution.
- In the case of Ram Nandan v. State of Uttar Pradesh, the Court mentioned that Section 124A is extremely questionable and unpleasant for both practical and historical reasons. It must be removed as soon as possible.
Two restrictions were added in Article 19 (2) after the first Constitutional Amendment, ‘friendly relations with foreign state’ and ‘public order’.
- In the case of Brij Bhushan v. the State of Delhi, Justice Fazl Ali said that severe public disorder and disturbance in the peace might affect the security of the public as well as the state. So, the reason the term ‘sedition’ is absent from the Constitution because it has terms with wider meaning which includes the feel of sedition and other activities which are harmful to the security of the state.
- In the case of Raghubir Singh v. the State of Bihar and Dr Vinayak Binayak Sen v. the State of Chhattisgarh, the Supreme Court and Chhattisgarh High Court held that in order to commit sedition, it is not mandatory that the accused provides the seditious material or should have actually attempted hatred or disaffection.
- In the case of V. A. Pugalenthi v. State, the Madras High Court held that reaching out to the public to gain support against the Central and State Governments on the issue of NEET examination is not sedition as every citizen of the country has the fundamental right to register protest peacefully without violence and public nuisance.
This is the journey of sedition after Independence, so any words or actions used against the government which do not threaten the security of the state and people or doesn’t lead to any sort of public disorder would not fall under Section 124A of IPC.
Constitutionality of Sedition
Ram Nandan v. State of Uttar Pradesh was the first case to attack the constitutionality of Section 124A of IPC. Freedom of speech and expression is the soul of our constitution and Section 124A violates that. The Allahabad High Court held that it is beyond the legal authority of the Section to restrict freedom of speech and expression.
Kedar Nath Singh v. the State of Bihar challenged the constitutionality of Section 124A, the judgement of the case Ram Nandan v. State of Uttar Pradesh was overruled through this case. The Court held that there must be boundaries to the Section, as only acts which tend to cause public disorder or violence should fall under the Section and the Court also distinguished between ‘The Government established by law’ and ‘the persons for the time being engaged in carrying on the administration’.
The government established by law is the symbol of the State, undermining the power of the state can harm the security of the state and the people living in it. Which means respecting the existence of the government is required for the stability of the state. Sedition is an offence against the state. This justifies that every act that comes in the boundaries of Section 124A is an offence against the state. However, the wrong use of this Section is a violation of freedom of speech and expression, Article 19.
Section 124A of IPC
Sedition is covered under Section 124A of IPC. However, the word ‘sedition’ doesn’t appear in the section as the section only gives a brief understanding of the law of sedition. Section 124A 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 fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”
- Explanation 1 – The expression ‘disaffection’ includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.
- Explanation 2 – Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the Government with a view to obtaining their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.
- 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.
Sedition focuses to bring hatred or contempt towards the Government or to excite disaffection and disloyalty towards the Government while the comments expressing criticism of the Government or any work of the Government without spreading hatred or disaffection is not sedition.
Two Essentials of the Section
This section requires two essentials:
- Bringing or attempting to bring into hatred or contempt or exciting or attempting to excite disaffection towards, the Government of India.
- Such act or attempt may be done (i) by words, either spoken or written or (ii) by signs, (iii) by visible representation.
Any act which undermines the government through hatred, contempt and disaffection and causing public disorder or violence is a seditious act and is an offence under Section 124A of IPC.
- In the case of Balwant Singh v. the State of Punjab, the Court held that criticism through raising slogans once or twice by individuals can not excite or attempt to excite hatred or disaffection towards the government.
So, to actually support a conviction under Section 124A of IPC, some points must be proven:
- The accused actually spoke the words.
- The accused brought or attempted to bring hatred or excite or attempted to excite disloyalty against the Government.
- It must create public disorder or violence.
Growth of Sedition
There are many factors which are responsible for the birth and growth of sedition:
- Education – Education of the people in a society can be a factor responsible for the growth of sedition. Education means complete education of our culture, history, social norms and it must also include psychological, spiritual or any other study which could benefit society by building a strong nation by making future citizens with progressive minds and strong potential.
- Socio-Economic Status – The socio-economic status of a person or a group is a factor which helped sedition, as the people with lower economic status wants to earn money by any means possible for their survival, due to which they can convict sedition without having any idea what they are up to. These people unknowingly commit the offences like fake currency distribution, illegal arms dealing and many more.
- Degradation of moral values – Cultural influence and reduction in moral values can promote the growth in sedition. Currently, we are trying hard to copy western culture, which leads to losing the rich Indian Culture and heritage. Copying helps in adapting both sides of western culture, good as well as bad.
- Religious Fundamentalism – Religious fundamentalism is not only a problem of our country but it has roots globally. Hatred is used as a tool to spread violence in the name of religion and encouraged by a few individuals and some places. Political organizations use this difference for their benefit by provoking individuals or communities to take part in seditious activities. This hatred is damaging our nation at large and communities must be trained to overcome these issues.
Is Sedition a crime?
Sedition is considered as a crime against the state in the Indian Penal Code. Sedition is considered as disloyalty in action. Sedition can also be considered as a crime against society as it causes or spreads public disorder or violence in the state.
It is the duty of a police officer to take action against any reliable information lodged by the complainant about sedition. It is an offence which permits arrest without a warrant and also police can start the investigation without the permission of the Court. Procedures, when police can arrest without warrant, are:
- When the seditious act is taking place in front of a police officer, District Magistrate or Executive Magistrate, then they are allowed to arrest such person without any warrant.
- When any classified details are provided by another police officer, then they are allowed to arrest such person without any warrant.
- When F.I.R. is lodged for sedition.
- When a police officer has a suspicion on another person, then they are allowed to arrest such a person for further investigation.
Freedom of Speech and Sedition
Freedom of speech and sedition are like two sides of the same coin. Mahatma Gandhi quoted ‘speech is silver, but silence is gold’, but the silence of the people in the present situation is harming the integrity and sovereignty of the nation. John Stuart Mill said freedom of speech is necessary for a stable society, as it helps the citizens to provide their views about the system, both positive and negative. Napoleon Bonaparte said that ‘The world suffers a lot, not because of the violence of bad people but because of the silence of the good people’.
Speech is a powerful weapon in a democratic society. Speech can be used as a tool to for motivating people, a medium to promote patriotism and a key in developing the minds of the individuals. Freedom of speech not only provide public opinion but it also helps the underprivileged and unheard people of the society who wishes to give their opinions on government and other policies. A government where people are allowed to criticise the government is an excellent form of government.
Democracy requires active and smart participation of the public. It is their right to have information about political, social, economic and cultural issues and situations happening around them to form suggestions for the administration.
Democracy counts every person, irrespective of their differences. Not only the opinions of the majority are considered, but the suggestions and issues of the minority are also acknowledged.
- In the case of S. Khushboo v. Kanniamal & Anr., the Supreme Court suggested that the free flow of thoughts in a society makes the society smart, which helps in good governance. For achieving this situation, it is necessary that society doesn’t fear the administration for providing opinions.
- In the case of Tata Press Ltd v. Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd & Ors, the Supreme Court emphasizes that “Freedom of speech is a basic natural right of an organised society to provide and obtain information on their common interest”.
Freedom of speech not only helps in balancing the society also provides a feeling of self-satisfaction amongst the people.
Expression not amounting to Sedition
Expressing strong criticism towards the state or its institutions is not amounting to sedition as both institutions and public make the country. So, criticism over a failed law expressed by the public for the disappointment towards their elected representatives can not amount to sedition because the protests project their disappointment.
The Court has been trying to express that every criticism doesn’t amount to sedition as the intention of the act is extremely important. Its intention must be considered before the conviction towards the act.
- Like in the case of Balwant Singh v. the State of Punjab, the Court refused to convict casual raising of slogans by two individuals against the State. The Court said that raising slogans to form two people for a couple of times can not create any danger towards the Government established by law, also it can not give rise to hatred among different communities.
- In the case of Javed Habib v. the State of Delhi, the Court held that criticism of the government is the essence of democracy. Holding an opinion or criticising towards the Prime Minister or his actions can not be considered as sedition under Section 124A of IPC. In the democratic system of government, people choose their government so they also have the right to criticise them.
- In the case of Sanskar Marathe v. State of Maharashtra & Anr., a cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was convicted under 124A of IPC for defaming the National Emblem, the Parliament and the Constitution of India by disrespecting the Government through his cartoons.
Through this case, the Court differentiated between disloyalty and criticism.
Criticism is commenting on measures or acts of the Government or it’s agencies to improve the situation or to protest against those acts or measures by lawful means while disloyalty leads to public disorder and uses violence as the key.
Criticism never undermines the Government, it is merely a difference in opinion while any act which uses hatred against the Government as a primary tool to cause public disorder is an offence.
Private Member’s Bill suggesting Amendment
In 2011, Mr D. Raja introduced a Private Member’s Bill to amend Section 124A of IPC, he claimed that the British Government used this law to put down our every view, speech and criticism towards their rule. Today, there are different specialised laws to deal with internal and external threats against the state. So, to control the misuse of this section and to promote freedom of speech and expression, the law must be removed.
In 2015, Mr Shashi Tharoor another Private Member’s Bill to amend Section 124A of IPC. The Bill proposed that only those actions or words which results in violence or provocation to violence are seditious. This suggested amendment started the discussion on interpretation on sedition once again.
No right can be absolute in nature as the right of one person will conflict with the right of another person. Every right has its own reasonable restrictions to stabilize society and to protect the public from harm. For example, freedom of speech doesn’t allow anyone to defame any other person. There are certain grounds on which reasonable restrictions of freedom of speech are based:
(i) Sovereignty and Integrity of India
The Constitution Sixteenth Amendment Bill, 1963 also known as Anti-Secession Bill introduced the words ‘the sovereignty and integrity of India’ to Article 19(2), creating another exception towards the right to free speech. This amendment was made to prevent freedom of speech and expression from exploiting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the State. This amendment restricts everyone to challenge the sovereignty and integrity of the state. It is essential for all the communities to remove all anti-national statements which can cause any sort of violence.
(ii) Security of the State
The term ‘Security of the State’ means the safety of the country against spying, theft, or other danger. Anything which can compromise the security of the state is an offence. The term security of the state majorly deals with serious forms of public disorder, such as rebellion, waging war against the state, riots, unlawful assembly. It protects the economy as well. So, the speeches or expressions which creates violence to overthrow the Government compromises the security of the state.
(iii) Friendly Relations with the Foreign States
In today’s world, it is important for a country to have good relations with other countries. So, reasonable restrictions must be imposed against the statements which can harm the relations with other friendly foreign states. Anything which can affect these relations must be examined by the authorities first.
(iv) Public Order
This restriction was added through the first amendment of the Constitution of India in 1951. The term ‘in the interest of public order’ not only includes the actions which directly leads to public disorder also those actions which can bend in the directions of public disorder. Public order is not only the maintenance of law and order but it also includes peace, safety and stability of the society. Anything which harms public peace is offences against public order. Criticising Government doesn’t come under public order.
(v) Decency or Morality
Another boundary of freedom of speech is decency and morality. Anything which affects the morality of the society is indecent. Decency or morality is described under Section 292-294 of IPC. The concept of morality changes from person to person which means an action which doesn’t hurt the morals of a person might be immoral for another person. So, there is no universal definition of morality and decency. In the case of Ranjit D. Udeshi v. the State of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court used the Hicklin’s test to decide the morality. Hicklin’s test sees whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscene tends to deprave and corrupt the minds which are open to such immoral influences’.
(vi) Contempt of Court
The term ‘contempt of Court’ is defined under Section 2 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. Judiciary plays a very important role in a democratic country. So, it is necessary to respect the institution and its orders. It refers to both criminal and civil contempt. A person can be punished for any statement against the Court unless it is for the public interest. While judges don’t have any protection from criticism on their judicial conduct for the statements in good faith or genuine criticism and not in harming the administration of justice. Article 129 and 215 of the Constitution of India provides powers to the Supreme Court and High Courts to punish for contempt. Even a judge can be punished under contempt of Court for raising allegations against the judges of higher Courts.
Defamation means harming or damaging the reputation of a person through a false statement. Defamation can either be libel which means defamation through writing, printing or any other permanent medium or it can be slander which means defamation through spoken words or imitated gestures. Any individual is known by its reputation more than anything else. So, any right of a person can not affect the reputation of another person. This restriction protects people from losing their reputation.
The law of defamation is described under Section 499 of IPC and its punishment is given in Section 500 of IPC. Defamation protects private individual interests other than public interest, due to which many petitions were filed in the Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of the law. Politicians and corporations misused this section to silence media, activists and criticism.
(viii) Incitement to an Offence
This restriction was also added through the Constitution First Amendment Act, 1951. This ground means that no can must encourage or provoke anyone through statements to commit an offence. Offence means any act which is punishable by law. Right to Freedom of Speech can not protect anyone from encouraging other individuals to commit an offence. Law of sedition is the perfect example of this ground.
So, these grounds are necessary for the betterment of both national interests as well as the interest of society. So, freedom of speech is the basic right but it must not public order.
The Need for Freedom of Speech
- It helps people to feel accomplished
- It helps in realising the actual situation of the society
- It helps in improving the decision making the power of an individual
- It helps in balancing stability and social change.
- In the case of Union of India & Ors. v. The Motion Picture Association & Ors., the Supreme Court established that free speech is the foundation of a democratic society. Free exchange of ideas, sharing of information without foundation, sharing knowledge, collecting different point of views, discussing and expressing views are the basic feature of a free society.
The other side is imposing reasonable restrictions from the state on freedom of speech and expression to prevent society from ‘harm’. “Harm principle” states that ‘until and unless a speech doesn’t result in some sort of harm, it can not be suppressed’. It implies that sometimes free speech can cause distress or harm to society, which can be prevented by some reasonable restrictions.
Supreme Court through many judgements justified that the right to free speech and expression is not absolute in nature, as a person wants to do many things, but in a civilised society, all the desires can’t be achieved. So, the desires must be controlled and improvised for the betterment of other individuals as well as society. It means liberty must be limited for the proper functioning of the society because speech is powerful as it can make people both happy and sad and sometimes angry. So, it must be conducted properly.
- In the case of S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram, the Court held that the right of freedom and speech can not be restricted until and unless there is a danger to the society or public disorder. The danger must be directly connected to the expression, it must not be hypothetical or unlikely to occur.
- In the case of Indramani v. the State of Manipur, the Court stated that Section 124A is both void and valid. Restriction on spreading disaffection or attempting to do so is violating freedom of speech while the restriction on exciting hatred or contempt against the Government established by law is valid.
The law of sedition can be considered as a tool against any person who raises the voice against the state, either right or wrong. So, it must be constantly updated according to the situations and cases.
The Law Commission of India suggested that Section 124A and Article 19(2) must go hand in hand and there must be a careful inspection of facts and circumstances of the cases related to them.
Treason is the crime of betrayal against the country by harming the government. There is no particular law of treason in India because India was ruled by Britishers as a colony, the laws were copied from British Law but for the British people living in the country. The law of treason thus opposes the interests of the Britishers. That is, all the people who were working for the Britishers were actually committing treason against the country and the freedom fighters were not committing treason. This would create troubles for the British Rule.
Absence of law of treason allows people performing all anti-national activities like demanding a separate sovereign state and can live without fear.
Sedition and Treason
Sedition and Treason are quite similar as they both act in opposing the government. While treason is a more serious offence than sedition. Sedition is an act which encourages hatred against the government by creating public disorder while treason refers to acts which harm one’s own country. But they are the same in meaning according to a dictionary.
So, Sedition is against the government in power while treason is a violation against the country. Sedition threatens the government or individuals as an authority while treason threatens the entire country including all the people living in the country.
Famous Cases of Sedition in India
There have been changes in the law regarding freedom of speech. Suhrith Parthasarathy who is an advocate at Madras High Court wrote that sedition is any action which brings or attempts to bring hatred or disaffection towards the Government established by law in India. The law of sedition helped the country’s ruler in controlling the crowd. Mahatma Gandhi said that the Britishers used their political power to suppress the liberty of the citizens. There are some important cases which helped in the reconstruction of Section 124A through the years:
(i) The Queen-Empress v. Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1897)
This case is one of the most famous cases in the history of the law of sedition in our country. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who was an advocate was charged twice for sedition.
- First in 1897, when his speeches encouraged other individuals to spread violence against the Britishers which ended with the death of two British officers. This was the first time when Section 124A of IPC was defined and applied.
- Second in 1990, when he wrote an article in his newspaper ‘Kesari’ about the Maratha Warrior Shivaji which was considered seditious by the government. Interpretation of ‘Disaffection’ was given through this case.
(ii) Kedar Nath Singh v. the State of Bihar (1962)
This was the first case of sedition in the Court of Independent India. This case challenged the constitutionality of Section 124A. The Supreme Court distinguished between disloyalty towards the government and criticising the government without creating public order or genuine criticism in good faith. He was a member of a Forward Communist Party in Bihar and was charged for a serious speech disapproving the government and trying to create a rebellion against the government. The Supreme Court justified that only those actions which can create public disorder are legally seditious.
(iii) Dr. Binayak Sen v. the State of Chhattisgarh (2007)
Dr. Binayal Sen was accused of sedition for helping the Naxalites and was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Session’s Court in Raipur. He was charged for helping active Naxalites by passing notes from a prisoner to someone outside the jail. He states that he was always under the supervision of prisoner official and doing something like that was not possible rather it was his criticisms against Salwa Judum on their killings lead him to this situation. He told this group was supported by the state government to clear village land and extract iron ore, bauxite and diamonds from it.
Dr. Sen is a paediatrician and also a human rights activist who has won the Jonathan Mann Award, 2008 for global health and human rights in recognition of his services to poor and underprivileged communities in India. Later on, the Indian Government was criticised by 22 Nobel Prize winners for the imprisonment of Dr. Sen and requested them to release him to accept the award in person.
(iv) Aseem Trivedi v. the State of Maharashtra (2012)
Aseem Trivedi was a cartoonist and an activist who was best known for his anti-corruption campaign. He was accused of sedition for posting ‘insulting and derogatory’ sketches of parliament and the National Emblem on the social networking sites. Through this case, the Court differentiated between disloyalty and criticism.
Mayank Gandhi of India Against Corruption (IAC) told that Trivedi took part in the protest started by Anna Hazare and he also raised voice against corruption. Due to which the government is trying to end his project. According to him, some people may find his cartoons offensive but sentencing life imprisonment for this act was too extreme.
(v) Shreya Singhal v. Union of India (2012-15)
This case plays a very important role in the Indian Legal System as it challenged the constitutionality of the Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000 and finally removing it proving it as a violation of Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
Two girls were arrested by the Mumbai Police for expressing their discomfort by posting comments on Facebook on a protest called by Shiv Sena after Bal Thackery’s death. In 2012, Shreya Sehgal who was a student of law filed a petition to amend Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000 as it violates Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India.
In 2015, the judgement of the case came after three years which distinguished between ‘advocacy’ and ‘incitement’ and only incitement is punishable by law. The Court said that no person can be tried for sedition unless there is an active connection with causing any violence or public disorder.
(vi) Kanhaiya Kumar v. the State of Delhi (2016)
On 12 February 2016, Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested by the Delhi Police under Section 124A and 120B of the IPC. He was charged for shouting slogans decreasing the integrity of the country at an event organised by the students of JNU on the hanging of Afzal Guru. Kanhaiya Kumar all the accusations and said that he did not say anything that was seditious. His arrest triggered a political storm between left-wingers and right-wingers.
The University investigated the event and took disciplinary actions against the people involved and imposing a fine of Rs. 10,000 on Kumar. Later, the Delhi High Court removed the fine and termed the committee’s decision as ‘illegal, irregular and irrational’. The arrest gave rise to a strike paralyzing the administration of the university.
O.P. Sharma, MLA of BJP was involved in attacking Kumar’s parents, JNU students and professors and even journalists and later he denied that. Kumar’s parents said that their son was victimized for having a different opinion than the Hindutva politics.
After his release, Kumar faced many threats including life threat.
(vii) Kedarnath v. the State of Bihar (1962)
This case overruled the judgement of Ram Nandan v. the State of Uttar Pradesh, the Court held that this Section is constitutional but it must be interpreted widely. It meant that for the conviction of sedition the act must create chaos or disturbance of law and order or incitement of violence. The supreme also differentiated between unfaithfulness to the government and criticising the government without creating any public disorder by violence.
(viii) Balwant Singh and Anr v. the State of Punjab (1995)
Balwant Singh and Bhupinder Singh who worked as an assistant in an office in Punjab and as a senior clerk in school were arrested from Neelam Cinema because they were shouting slogans on the day, Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister at that time was assassinated. The slogans were:
- Khalistan Zindabad
- Raj Karega Khalsa
- Hindustan Nun Punjab Chon Kadh Ke Chhadange, Hun Mauka Aaya Raj Kayam Karan Da
The Court said, raising slogans couple of times by two individuals can not excite or attempt to excite hatred or disaffection towards the government. They can not create any threat against the government established by law and can not create hatred among different communities. They neither get any reaction from the public nor can attract provisions of Section 124A and 153A. Some serious act was required to convict them of sedition.
Is Sedition Law necessary in India?
Most of the laws including sedition are the gifts from the Britishers to our country. No fundamental right is absolute as all of them have restrictions. Restrictions are needed to protect the public interest. “A citizen has the right to write and say anything about the government as criticism unless and until it doesn’t invite people to do violence against the government established by law”.
Mere criticism or difference in opinions doesn’t amount to sedition unless it has the capability to incite people to overthrow the government established by law. The sedition law is misused a lot but the Supreme Court suggested that Section 124A is necessary as it helps in certain cases and must not be removed rather the people who misuse this law must be taken into consideration.
There have been many incidents where people are termed as ‘anti-national’. The actions can be just sentiments against any government member or project and nothing else. But in these cases, the state files charges of sedition but sedition can not be applied to criticism of the government or its functionaries because only words can not be considered as sedition, incitement to violence is the main key to sedition.
Criticism of the state is the essence of democracy is nonsense after the case of JNU. India is the largest democracy in the world but it still suppresses the views of the youth and trying to control how and what the youth must think.
Any sedition cases are filed every year but a few are convicted because the authority misuses their power and wrongly convict other people. Even if the people are not convicted, the government shows people that ‘obey or be ready to face the consequences’.
Before Independence, the Britishers used this law to suppress the freedom movement and the voices of the people but sadly our government is using this law against its own people. It is using this law to complete end our opinions against them. These are the arguments which are used in removing this law.
In the case of State of Rajasthan v. Union of India, the Court said that ‘mere possibility of misusing the power is no ground for denying the existence of power’.
The Court said that the arguments for removing sedition are precise in their own way but removing the Section can create more chaos in the public. So, the law of sedition is necessary for its own peculiar way.
Why India does not need a Sedition Law?
In India, people can be convicted with sedition for liking a Facebook post, criticising a yoga guru, cheering a rival cricket team, drawing cartoons or not standing up in cinema when the national anthem is being played. The law is mainly used to produce fear in those people who protest against the authority. Due to delays in disposing of cases, people who are charged with sedition have to surrender their passports, can not apply for government jobs, must be present in the Court whenever summoned and spend money on legal fees. In general, sedition violates the right to freedom of speech and expression. There are some reasons which show that India doesn’t need sedition laws:
- Colonial Law – The most important reason is that this law was made by the Britishers to suppress the Indians who were fighting for their freedom through actions which are against the rules of British Law. Thus, the law must be removed from this democratic society where the power lies within the citizens.
- Sedition Law – In the current scenario, the law of sedition is majorly used by the political parties for their own benefits. The ruling party misuses the authority against anyone who questions their policies and criticises their authorities. Even the Supreme Court of India has criticised the law but was unable to amend it.
- The rules and regulations present in the Indian Penal Code are enough to control all the threats to society and public disorder.
- At the time of the first amendment, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (Former PM) understood that the offence of sedition was fundamentally unconstitutional and said ‘Section 124A is highly questionable and doubtful and it has no place in Independent India for both practical and historical reasons and we should get rid of it as soon as possible’.
The misuse of Article19(1)(a) and the Current Scenario
The right to free speech doesn’t mean that people can say anything to anyone. It is an unfortunate but necessary restriction to the right. People who divide people on the basis of religion/caste are the people misusing their freedom of speech. Limitations are important in a democratic society to protect the rights of others.
The paid media shows or speaks in the language of the person whoever pays them. Words, sentences and paragraphs create effects on listeners and readers. Sadly, they are the part and parcel of the politics in the mainstream. The main focus is to increase the viewership of their channel or newspaper. To increase their viewership, they can spread any false news or wrong information to society. This is against the ethics of journalism. Media can sometimes cross the limits in defaming one person without actual proof. In the present situation, people easily accept what is wrong without any information about what is right. Paid news is a perfect example of this situation.
The right to freedom of speech is not only to speak freely to their full potential but it is also about utilising the rights responsibly. In the current scenario, the right to speech is narrowed down to speak against what is wrong. People are misusing their right by giving out false information. Right to free speech is a necessary tool which helps in initiating the changes and improving the wrong activities of the government. Because of the distribution of wrong information, criticism by the society is often considered an insult or defamation. So, it is necessary to impose limitations on the distribution of such wrong and incorrect statements that can probably influence other people.
Hate speeches are another way to violate the restrictions imposed on freedom of speech to protect the use of free speech to harm others. Hate speech which is spread by group or on social media can have a negative impact on society. The larger the number of people, the greater the effect. Spreading hate against the particular caste/religion/community can create chaos and permanent damage in the society which leads to an awful impact in the future.
A way ahead
Constructive criticism of finding loopholes in a policy of the government is considered harsh or insults to some people but it is actually showing their affection towards the country, and it can not be considered as seditious. Section 124A must be applied to only those cases where there is an intention to create public disorder or chaos in society or to overthrow the government established by law by violence or illegal means.
Every careless use of the right to freedom of speech and expression can not be considered as sedition. Expressing their opinion is the right of every citizen, the opinion can be in favour of or against the government policy. No one can arrest anyone under the difference of opinion. People in India can express their frustration of government affairs, for example, calling India ‘no country for women’ can not be considered as sedition as it doesn’t threaten the government in any way or it doesn’t create chaos in the society. Criticism of any kind can not and should not be considered as sedition.
Restrictions are necessary to protect national integrity and public interest but it should not be used as a tool to suppress free speech. Criticism and debates are like the basic ingredient of a successful democracy. There are some loopholes which lie between the actual law and the interpretation of the law. Thus the law needs to find them and improvise them. So, every restriction imposed on free speech must be carefully observed under severe conditions to avoid problems and violation of free speech.
So, sedition is an extremely controversial law in our country and the government must balance sedition with freedom of speech and expression as the right to openly criticise the government is essential for a healthy democracy. The Court supports the constitutionality of the Section 124A but it’s a conviction to acts where violence or incitement of violence is found. As the authorities misuse this section, it is the perfect time to improvise or review the section.
Through the cases, the High Court understood that sedition can not be used to penalise criticisms against the government to improve or change the policies by lawful means. Also, it can not be used to convict comments, no matter how strong they are until it creates violence or encourages to create violence. Advocate General issued guidelines for Police Officers on arresting people for sedition, and not following them will be actionable in front of the Court. These guidelines protect people from being a victim of the misuse of sedition.
According to the Sociological school of Jurisprudence, helps in creating a balance between the different interests of society. Therefore, we need to create effective provisions to cure sedition, in order to maintain the integrity and sovereignty of the country. Our education system must help the students to have clarity of thoughts and ideas to build a progressive nation and the Judiciary with the huge responsibility to judge precisely every case of sedition to help the victims.