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Sedition Law In India: Past And Present

If you criticize any work of the Government is it your right to freedom to express your views or it is an act of sedition against the Government? Confusing right? With this question let us see as to what sedition is and what is the major difference between it and the right to freedom to criticize the Government?

Sedition is an offence against the state; it is covered in the Indian Penal Code as Section 124(which is now repealed). Any act or material which can bring hatred, contempt, or disaffection against the Government and can ignite people to commit the offence of violence or public disorder in the Nation is termed as "Sedition". Critism or disapproval of the actions of Government is basically not considered under the term "sedition".

The sedition law is heavily critized because of its misuse to cut down the voice against the Government, it is alleged that the sedition law hampers the exercise of freedom of Speech and Expression by people.

History Of Sedition In India

In the 17th Century Britishers brought in the sedition law as they believe that the Queen or King can do no wrong and hence only good opinion of the Government should be accepted and survive and Bad opinion should be considered as disrespect towards Government by its people.

It was the colonial rule of Britishers in India which brought in the sedition law through Indian Penal Code in 1870, James Stephen, a British Historian Politician brought in Section 124 by amendments when it was felt the need for the specific section. Sedition is used as a weapon by the Britishers, any word to word speaking against the Government would lead to charge of Sedition even though no violence was followed. It was a tool to suppress voice against many freedom fighters Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Bhagat Shingh, Jawaharlal Nehru and Many others.

It was then the scenario changed in the prominent case of Niharendu Dutt Majumdar and others Vs King Emperor (1942) the Frederal Court(the highest authority in British India) interpreted sedition as an offence only when it incites public disorder or violence. Aftermath in the case of King Emperor Vs Sadashiv Naryan Bhalerao(1947) the privy council in United Kingdom rejected the interpretation of Federal Court and stated that the application of sedition does not require incitement of public disorder or violence.

After India got Independence, the constitution assembly dropped sedition from the constitution of India as it was a hindrance to reasonable restriction on Freedom of Speech and Expression. In 1951, the 1st Amendment put some reasonable restriction on Freedom of Speech and Expression by adding "Public Order" in Article 19(2). Later the Indira Gandhi Government made Section 124A a cognizable offence by the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973.

What constitutes sedition?

Now here stands a question as to what are the constituents of sedition. Sedition must be summarized into the following points:
  • There must be words, written or spoken, signs, Visual representation or any such act;
  • Such an act should bring or attempts to bring hatred or contempt or excites or attempts to excite disaffection;
  • Such hatred, contempt, or disaffection must be towards on Government, establishes by law in India and;
  • It must have led to the incitement of violence or public disorder.
Punishment for sedition:
  • Under Article 124A, punishment of the sedition can be:
  • Imprisonment for up to 3 years.
  • Imprisonment for Life.
  • Imprisonment for life along with Fine.
  • Imprisonment for up to 3 years along with Fine.
  • Only Fine.

The Present Scenario and Recent Developments:
In August 2023, during the Monsoon Session of Parliament of India, the centre replaced the Indian Penal Code. The Home Minister Amit Shah introduced the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill to Lok Sabha on the final day of the Monsoon Session. The Bill replaced 124A of the IPC by Section 150 of the new bill.

Section 150 of the Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita avoids using word "Sedition"; instead it describes the offence as "Soverginity, Unity and Integrity of the India". Now Parliamentary Committee will be setup to scrutinize the bill.

What the Section 150 say?
The Centre has now replaced the word "sedition" the Article 150 of the Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita which stats that "whenever, purposely or written, or by signs , or by visible representation or by electronic communication or by use of financial means or otherwise, excites or attempt to excites, succession or armed rebellion or subversive activities or endangers soverginity or unity and integrity of India; or indulges in or commit any such act shall with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment which may extent to 7 years and shall also be liable with fine.

Every nation apart from giving rights to citizen needs tough law to maintain law and order in the society. Sedition is one of the law but we are in 21st Century and in a democratic structure of Government and in democracy the law of the Nation and people of the Nation are supreme and we cannot prioritize between the two as both goes hand to hand, it is the Government and the Judiciary that have to collectively decide the distinction between what would be termed as sedition and what is Freedom of Speech for citizen to replicate the misuse of the law by any forces.

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