Sedition and Freedom of Speech in India
Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code defines sedition as 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 and provides for
punishment to the offender with an 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.
The history of Sedition laws in India can be traced back to the Indian Penal
Code enacted in 1860 under the British Raj. It was added as an amendment to the
Act in 1870. The British used this law to suppress the Wahabi Movement and
imprison activists like Lokmanya Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi.
In 1961, the Punjab High Court held that sedition violated the freedom of speech
guaranteed in Article 19, and declared it unconstitutional. Allahabad High
Court proceeded to do the same, and the matter moved to the Supreme Court.
Ultimately, in the case of Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar, the apex court upheld
the constitutional validity of Section 124A.
Merely being critical of the government or expressing contempt on the
functioning of the government does not amount to sedition. For an act to
constitute sedition, it must be done an intention to cause disorder/disturbance
of the public peace or law by resort to violence, and must incite violence.
Article 19(a) of the Indian Constitution provides for freedom of speech and
expression. It is a fundamental right and cannot be taken away. However, it is
not absolute and is subject to reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2) in
the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the
State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality
or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.
One of the most important characteristics of a democracy is freedom of speech.
A democratic country is one where the citizens have a choice, and the right to
voice their choices. Denying them their right to express would take away the
essence of democracy.
However, while all citizens have the right to speak freely
and express their views and opinions, it must be kept in mind that with those
rights, they also have certain duties to perform as citizens of India. A
democracy can function in its best possible way only when the State and the
citizens perform their own duties, and think first on national level, and then
The leaders of this nation are elected by the people. The same people who elect
those leaders and put their confidence in them, when ask questions, give
suggestions, or have conflicting opinions, must be heard.
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