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Sedition Law: A Mechanism to curb free speech?

Section 124A of Indian Penal Code (IPC) is the prince among the political sections designed to suppress the liberty of the citizens these are the words of Mahatma Gandhi during his imprisonment under the section in 1922 for his three articles for Young India. The usage of this section is still in question in independent India.

In layman's terms sedition means a provocation to go against the Government or a monarch. And according to our IPC whoever by words either spoken our written, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law 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. A constitution bench upheld its validity in Kedarnath Singh vs. State of Bihar in 1962, Citation-1962 AIR 955, 1962 SCR Supl. (2) 769.

It was ruled unconstitutional by Punjab High Court in 1951. Now the question arises that whether this controversial section is consistent with the freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 19(1) (a). Though there are some reasonable restrictions provided with our fundamental rights but we cannot shy away from the fact that the Government in post independent era has used it to for its political vendetta. We shall further discuss the origin of the law, claims supporting the law, claims against the law and constitutional validity.

Origin of the law:
The law was not originally inducted into our IPC, 1860 but was trickled by Sir James Stephen via amendment to suppress the voices of the citizens in pre independent era of India. Originally it was drafted by Thomas Macaulay in 1837. It was after the Wahabi Movement the British felt the implementation of the draconian law.

The movement focused on protesting against any change in original Islam and was led by Syed Ahmed Barelvi. Eventually the Wahabis were termed as traitors by the British and carried out military operations against them. This was the time they introduced the term sedition in the constitution. Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Annie Besant were prominent targets during the colonial period. The first case was reported against Jogendra Chandra Bose, editor of Bangobasi for criticising the Age of consent Bill.

Claims supporting the law:

  • Such acts are essential in order to check seccionist propagandas.
  • The fundamental right for freedom of speech guaranteed under article 19(1) (a) cannot be used as a tool to spread violence or hatred against the Government established by law.
  • It will help in curbing the activities to overthrow the Government.
  • It will help in combating maoist insurgency, terrorist and anti-national activities.

Claims against the law:

  • If Britain itself has abolished the offence in 2009 labeling it as an artefact of colonial period when freedom of expression was not considered as a right why are we lingering to put an end to it in our democracy.
  • Criticising the policies of Government shall not be labeled as criticising the Government or an attempt to overthrow the Government and term it as seditious. Questioning the Government is the right of every citizen.
  • The term disaffection is quite indefinite under the section of 124A as different people construe the term differently and it makes it easier for the corrupt politicians to misuse the law.
  • UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) and IPC itself are enough for restraining the disruption of public order or any such attempts so there is no need of such laws.

Constitutional validity

The constitutionality of the act was challenged in 1962 in Kedar Nath Vs State of Bihar. The point whether the law on sedition should be applicable in a democracy where fundamental right for free speech and expression is guaranteed. Every citizen of the nation can write about the Government by way of criticism or comment until and unless they incite people to overthrow the Government, incite people to create violence or cause public disorder.

This is what the Supreme Court had ruled in the judgment. So basically commenting on the measures taken by the Government without provoking the citizens to indulge in feelings of enmity is not seditious. Talking about the present scenario more than 3000 protestors were charged for sedition for protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and approx 3300 farmers were charged in 2019 for protesting about the land disputes. These are the reports of NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau).

Now the time has come to ponder over the applicability of this law in a democratic and a sovereign country like India. Weightage must be given to public opinions in policies established by Government because at the end it is public for which the Government works. Terming a citizen as anti-national making it easier for the police to arrest him or her is something obnoxious in post independent era. After all individual autonomy should be the foundation for real freedom if we intend to live in a democratic society.

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Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Safeeya Sabeer, Roll No-2082038 - BBA LLB (B), KIIT School Of Law, Bhubaneshwar

Awarded certificate of Excellence
Authentication No: DE32349977517-25-1220

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