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Constitutional Validity of Sedition Law in India

Any sort of speech, deed, or writing that stirs up animosity towards the status quo and jeopardizes the nation's enduring peace is considered to be seditious. Sedition is defined as "conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch"by the Oxford Dictionary. Sedition is overt conduct that uses words and organization to overthrow the established order. Constitutional violations and the incitement of insurrection against established authorities are typical components of sedition. Sedition is defined as any disturbance that violates the law but isn't explicitly violent.

Libelous speech that is seditious. A seditionist is a person who promotes or engages in sedition. Before and after independence, a number of writers, artists, and activists were targeted under the legislation of sedition under section 124A IPC, including Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Annie Besant, and Mahatma Gandhi. The IPC's political section 124A, which was created to restrict a citizen's freedom, was dubbed by Mahatma Gandhi as the section's crown jewel.

The United Kingdom instituted the sedition law in India, yet between 1972 and 2009, the UK itself brought no sedition cases against any individuals. The sedition statute was ultimately totally repealed in the UK in 2009.

The Indian freedom movement is a key factor when discussing the history of the sedition statute. The earliest attempt to codify the criminal code in its current form occurred after the Indian Independence Revolt of 1857. Based on the recommendations of the 1st Law Commission, which was led by Lord Macaulay and created in 1860, the Indian Penal Code was therefore implemented in 1860.The IPC's Section 124A, which dealt with the IPC's sedition laws, was not mentioned (hence referred to as the Act). Sedition was originally codified in the Indian Penal Code's Chapter IV, which deals with crimes against the state, in 1870. In the case of the Queen-Empress vs Jogendra Chunder Bose And Ors. On 25 August, 1891

Equivalent citations: (1892) ILR 19 Cal 35 of the Bangabasi case, the first sedition trial was held. There has been an ongoing discussion regarding the abuse of Section 124A and whether or not this clause should be ruled unlawful for a very long time.

Section 124 A IPC Sedition: An Insight

[124A-Sedition.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 obtain 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 is a crime when someone seeks to incite hatred or discontent in the general populace towards the government through their words, deeds, or acts. Anyone who incites or tries to incite hatred or contempt in others towards the legally established government is said to have committed a sedition offence. Violence among the broader people must result from instigation. The incitement may be expressed vocally, in writing, visually, through a sign, or in any other manner appropriate.

Anyone who engages in sedition may be sentenced to three years in prison, a fine, or both, or their sentence may be increased to include a life sentence in prison with or without a fee. The prerequisites for the crime of sedition are as follows:
  • First and foremost, the words must be expressed verbally, in writing, through actions, or through signs.
  • It ought to arouse in the populace a sense of hostility, contempt, disillusionment, or hate towards the government.
The key components of seditious action are those who commit acts of violence or inspire others to commit acts of violence. If you try to incite others to insult or oppose the government in any way through violent protests or other forms of public unrest, you may have committed sedition.

Constitutional Validity Of Sedition Law In India

In Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha v. Union of India AIR 16 July (2021), the Supreme Court of India will debate the legality of Section 124A, which makes sedition a crime. Two journalists, Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha and Kanhaiya Lal Shukla, have been charged with sedition in India in relation to postings and cartoons that they allegedly made on social media. They have submitted a writ suit contesting the constitutionality of Section 124A, which makes sedition a crime and imposes penalties for it.

In addition to other things, Section 124A is helpful in the struggle against anti-national, separatist, and terrorist elements. It protects the elected government from attempts to overthrow it using violent and illegal means. For a state to remain cohesive, the established legal government must maintain its legitimacy. If disrespecting the law is punishable by law, then disrespecting the government ought to be punished by law as well.

The claim that Section 124A limits our "freedom of expression"has been made against it on various occasions since independence. In a secular, independent India where democratic values are preserved, many have questioned the so-called "tyrannical"remnants of colonial rule. As a result, detractors claim that this legislation of the Indian Penal Code violates the Constitution of the nation. Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar (1962), a seminal case, determined that Section 124A was constitutionally legitimate.

State of Bihar v. Kedar Nath Singh, AIR 20 January, 1962
Equivalent citations: 1962 AIR 955, 1962 SCR Supl. (2) 769

In this instance, it was ruled that the statute was constitutional and that it applied to all written or spoken remarks, regardless of their origin, that had the overt goal of subverting the government.

It is acceptable for citizens to criticise the government in an effort to stir up a commotion, as long as they do not incite others to act violently against the government.

The Supreme Court maintained the validity of Section 124A, although it only applied it to conduct that had the potential to incite violence, disrupt law and order, or cause public commotion, among other things.

According to the Court, the fundamental element of the crime of "sedition"is the incitement to violence or the tendency or intention to cause public disorder through spoken or written words that have the potential or the impact of inciting hatred or contempt for the government established by law, or of causing disaffection in the sense of mistrust to the state.

Increased Abuse Of Section 124a Of The IPC

This is not unexpected given the law's frequent application in recent years, both to journalists and other nonviolent dissenters. The legislation against sedition is a useful tool in the state's arsenal for maintaining peace and order in society. However, it cannot be utilised to put an end to disturbance under the guise of silencing illegal behaviour.

Naturally, the law forbids any action that could potentially disrupt or jeopardise public order by using violence.As a result, it is assumed that Section 124 A can be validly used against the accused even though there was no accusation of the accused person making any calls for disorder or disrupting the peace of the community by using violence or making any indirect or overt references to doing so. Many people believe that using Section 124 A is a very controversial topic.

When someone claims the freedom of expression, it does not follow that they are free to speak to anyone. There has been a regretful but essential restriction placed on the right to vote. Abusers of free speech are those who utilise it to create divisions among people based on caste or religion. In a democratic society, it is necessary to place restrictions on one's freedom in order to protect the rights of others.

People must also use their freedom of expression responsibly if they want to use it to the utmost extent feasible. Right now, the only acceptable forms of free expression are those that call out wrongdoing. People are abusing it by disseminating false information in the name of their freedom.The ability to speak freely is a crucial instrument in the effort to effect change and advance the corrupt practises of the administration. Because of the spread of erroneous information in the media, critics in society are frequently seen as insults or defamation. Restrictions must be established on their distribution to stop the spread of such erroneous and damaging assumptions, which could affect other individuals.

Significant Rulings On Sedition

Over the years, a number of major instances have helped to restructure Section 124A.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak v. The Queen-Empress 9 November, 1916
Equivalent citations: (1917) 19 BOMLR 211
One of the most well-known historical examples of sedition is when our nation's independence fighters fought against colonial rule. Two different times, the valiant proponent of Indian freedom, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, was charged with sedition. It was given for the first penalty in 1897 for speeches that were said to have incited others to act violently, killing two British officers. He was tried in 1909 for publishing seditious articles in his newspaper Kesari, which he was then the owner of, after being found guilty in 1898 and given bail for the crime.

The year 1897 marked the first time that Section 124 A was defined and applied. The incitement to violence and uprising was irrelevant in the eyes of the ruling Privy Council when it came to determining the blame of a person who had been charged with sedition, according to the court. This case served as an example of how to interpret the term "Disaffection". Disaffection towards the government includes feelings of hatred, disagreement, enmity, disrespect, and every other form of ill will toward the government.

Dr Vinayak Binayak Sen 2 Pijush ... vs State Of Chhattisgarh on 10 February, 2011 AIR 2011
Was convicted of sedition and sentenced to life in jail at the Raipur Session's Court for his association with the Naxalites. He wasaccused of helping active Naxalites by allegedly exchanging texts between prisoners outside the jail, for which he was charged. He asserts that he was always under the supervision of a prison official and that taking such action was never an option; rather, his condemnation of Salwa Judum's part in their deaths is what led him to this situation.It was stated to me that this gang was being helped by the state government in its endeavours to mine diamonds, bauxite, and iron ore from the area cleared from the hamlet.

State Of Punjab vs Balwant Singh & Ors on 9 October, 1991

Equivalent citations: 1992 AIR 2214, 1991 SCR (3) 928

In this instance, the defendants yelled "Khalistan Zindabad"in front of a theatre after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was killed. The court found that two people chanting slogans carelessly could not be said to be encouraging opposition to the government. Given the circumstances of this case, Section 124A would not be applicable.

Sanskar Marathe vs The State Of Maharashtra And Anr on 15 March, 2015 AIR 2015
In 2010, sedition-related charges were brought against Aseem Trivedi, a prominent political cartoonist and activist known for his anti-corruption efforts and caricatures against corruption. The following year, he was granted bail and released. In the complaint, made by Amit Katarnayea, a legal counsel for a Mumbai-based NGO, Trivedi is charged with displaying 'insulting and derogatory'sketches at the anti-corruption rally led by Anna Hazare and uploading them to social networking sites, including one that depicted the Parliament as an outhouse and another that showed the National Emblem in a poor light by swapping out the lions for wild animals.

Shreya Singhal vs union of india on 24 March 2015 AIR 2015
Because it called into question the legitimacy of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, and ultimately succeeded in having it repealed because it was determined to be in violation of Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution, this case has a significant impact on the Indian legal system. The Mumbai Police apprehended two adolescent girls for posting remarks on Facebook that expressed their displeasure with a protest that the Shiv Sena had called after Bal Thackery's passing.

Law student Shreya Singhal submitted a petition in 2012 to alter Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 on the grounds that it contravenes Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution.The matter was finally resolved in 2015 after three years of litigation, with a distinction drawn between "advocacy"and "incitement,"with only incitement being criminalised. The court ruled that unless someone is directly involved in the conduct of violence or the encouragement of public unrest, they cannot be charged with sedition.

Kanhaiya Kumar vs State Of Nct Of Delhi on 2 March, 2016 AIR 2016
On February 12, 2016, Kanhaiya Kumar was taken into custody by the Delhi Police for breaking Sections 124A and 120B of the Indian Penal Code. At a JNU student-organized rally honouring the hanging of Afzal Guru, he was charged with insulting the nation's dignity by shouting chants that were offensive to the nation's dignity. Kanhaiya Kumar asserted that he did not utter anything seditious and refuted all of the allegations. Right and left-wing political activists in the United States were furious about his detention.

Right and left-wing political activists in the United States were furious about his detention. The event was investigated by the university, which also fined Kumar Rs. 10,000 and instituted disciplinary measures against those responsible. The Delhi High Court later overturned the fine, stating that the committee's choice was "illegal, uncommon, and unreasonable."The university's administration was unable to operate as a result of the strike that was started after the arrest.

Need Of A Relook Into The Law:
  • According to an estimate, the number of cases of sedition under Section 124A increased by 140% from 2016 to 2019.
  • The rate of conviction dropped to 3.3% in 2019 from 33.3% in 2016.
  • In the Internet age, what can lead to public disorder has itself become debatable, as information travels at lightning speed.
  • The U.K. repealed the offense of sedition in 2010 and India is holding onto a relic of the British Empire.
  • As recently as 2018, the Law Commission of India too questioned the justification of retaining Section 124A.
  • The provision examines the effects of the seditious text rather than a content-based test which reviews the text alone, which seems to be flawed.

India, the largest democracy in the world, understands the value of the freedom of speech and expression as a key tenet of democracy. It should not be considered that just expressing or thinking something contrary to official policy constitutes sedition. The Law Commission was right when they said that "an expression of dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs cannot be regarded as sedition."There wasn't much of a difference between our country's pre- and post-Independence eras in terms of accepting constructive condemnation.

Maintaining national integrity is essential, it goes without saying. It is unlikely that Section 124A will be abolished very soon, depending on the legal opinion and the government's support for the law. However, the Section should not be misused as a tool to repress free speech.

Sedition is, without a doubt, a problematic idea that must be gently weighed against our right to free speech, which is guaranteed by the constitution.Every citizen should have the right to freely and openly express their opinions about the government, even though no citizen should be allowed to incite unwarranted hatred among the populace or to incite hatred and violence against the government (especially in a country founded on the principles of non-violence). Some people have referred to the law's application as "draconian"since there are instances where the legal interpretation provided by Indian courts and how the law is put into practise conflict. It might be the proper time to think about changing this law at a time when people are becoming more and more conscious of their rights and Individual liberties as well as a growing sense of duty and responsibility in this democratic system.

The most serious infraction that can be committed in violation of Article 19 is seditious activity. As a result, sedition legislation must specifically include language that complies with Article 19(2)'s limitations. Sedition laws are intended to restrict free expression in order to protect the safety of the populace. The Supreme Court's rules for construing and enforcing sedition laws ought to be put into action through legislation.

Sedition is a colonial statute that upholds the "King is Supreme"tenet. In today's world, which values human liberty above all else, it has no place. To ensure that the right to dissent is exercised, sedition should be outlawed. Healthy disagreement should not be punished because it can aid in the country's progress. However, sedition is only one instrument in a toolbox. The abuse of UAPA, NSA, preventative detention legislation, etc. would remain limit the ability to dissent even when the sedition statute was repealed. The nation must promote a culture of discourse and tolerance for divergent viewpoints. India wouldn't be able to speak with its own voice till then.

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