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Critical Study On Sedition Laws In India

Governments always use the British era rule "sedition" against their critics or opponents. Government used this law as a whip to silence the dissent .Recent application of sedition laws has questioned the nature and legitimacy of these laws in contemporary Indian society.

The sedition law came to light in 2016, in which three students from Jawaharlal Nehru University (Kanhaiya Kumar, Omar Khalid, and Anirban Bhattacharya) were arrested by Delhi police for raising anti-national slogans. It is often argued between the state and the center often invoke sedition charges against reformers, artists as well as dissenters to quiet their political dissent so that rest fall in line.

The law of sedition is often under debate during the time of independence. Recent allegations of sedition against CAA and NRC protesters have sparked controversy over sedition. Amulya was held in pre-trial detention for 14 days at an anti CAA demonstration in Bangalore for shouting the slogan "Pakistan Zindabad". The mother of a student and principal of a school in Karnataka was arrested by the state police in January 2020 on charges of treason. Then his students presented a work that supposedly went against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Registry of Citizens (NRC).

This article on sedition law has become outdated and obscure in contemporary society as the Indian situation has changed over the last one hundred and fifty years as it has come into force, so there are obstacles to its uniform application across the cases.

Historical Background

Sedition as a concept was termed from the Elizabethan era in 1590 as "the idea of expressing annoyance to the state or constitutional authority by words or writing". Sedition accompanies treason as well as martial law. In 1837 Thomas Babington Macaulay drafted the IPC.

Section 113 of the draft marked it as an offense to "incite resentment against the government", but for unavoidable reasons, Section 113 of Macaulay's draft was not included in the final version of the IPC in 1860. The Sedition Act (Section 124A) was added in 1870, an amendment by Sir James Stephen in response to the Wahhabi movement between 1863 and 1870.The Wahabi movement was the most troublesome movement against the British at this time. It was one of many harsh and severe laws implemented to quell any dissenting opinion at the time.

The first case recorded for the crime was Queen Empress against Jogesh Chandra Bose in 1891. Bose's editor of the Bongobasi newspaper wrote an article criticizing the Age of Consent Act of 1891, describing it as "forced Europeanization. "Charges against Bose were dropped after apologizing. The case that led to the amendment in 1898 was Queen Empress v. Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

The British government claimed that Tilak's speeches about the assassination of Afzal Khan by Shivaji had led to the murder of two British officers in Pune. Thus Judge Strachey served charge to an enormously long term. For Strachey, sedition meant "all possible forms of bad feelings towards the government" and "the intensity of the discontent was absolutely irrelevant."

This case led to the amendment of the IPC in 1898 and Strachey's definition of sedition replaced Macaulay's in section 124A. Tilak was convicted and released on bail in 1898 and in 1909 he was again convicted for seditious writing in Punjab Kesari, but was released again.

Another case to criticize the law against sedition was Annie Besant v. Advocate General of Madras. Section 4(1) of the Indian Press Act, 1910, was confined similar to Section 124 A. Section states that the media, which has a tendency to incite hatred directly or indirectly, will be liable to confiscate her deposit. The Privy Council follows the earlier explanation given by Justice Strachey and seizes the deposit of Annie Besant's printing press.

In 1922 Mahatma Gandhi wrote three articles for Young India which resulted in sedition charges against him and he was jailed for six years. However, Gandhi did not object to the verdict and said that:
�people should be free to express their disaffection with the government. as long as they don't encourage violenc.

There was a conflict between the views of the federal courts of India and the Privy Council of England. In Niharendu Dutt Majumdar Vs King Emperor, 1942, the Federal Court ruled that:
"public disorder or reasonable anticipation or the likelihood of public disorder is the very essence of crime" , but this proposal was overturned by the Privy Council in King Emperor Vs Sadashiv Narayan Bhalerao, 1947.

The Privy Council underscored the law established in the Tilak case to affirm that incitement to violence was not a necessary precondition for constituting the crime of sedition. He concluded that the excitement of a sense of enmity towards the government was sufficient to establish guilt under section 124A.

Historically, the law has been used to eliminate political dissent. Several freedom fighters, including Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Bal Gangadhar Tilak were sent to prison on this charge during the freedom movement.

The laws relating to sedition were used against many national leaders and as a result a proposal was passed in the assembly for an amendment to the provision. The drafters decided to exclude the word "sedition" from the exceptions to the right to free speech. The word disappeared from the Constitution when it was adopted on November 26, 1949, but section 124A remained in the I.P.C.

It is not staggering to notice there have been a number of instances where the validity of the section 124A of IPC has been challenged after the constitution was introduced. The first in the queue was Romesh Thapar v Madras State where section 124A was found unconstitutional for being outside the scope of Article 19 (2) of the Constitution . There was also a case of Tara Singh Gopi v. State of Punjab where the court also found it unconstitutional for violation of freedom of speech and expression.

The 1951 Constitution (First Amendment) to include public order as a reasonable restriction on which speech could be abridged by law.

Statutory Provisions Governing Sedition In India

The word sedition has not been defined in the Constitution of India but it is mentioned in IPC,CrPC and The Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act, 1911

Section 124A of Indian Penal Code 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 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.]

Section 95 Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 states that Power to declare certain publications forfeited and to issue search warrants for the same:
  1. Where-
    1. any newspaper, or book, or
    2. any document, wherever printed, appears to the State Government to contain any matter the publication of which is punishable under Section 124-A or Section 153-A or Section 153-B or Section 292 or Section 293 or Section 295-A of the Indian Penal Code, the State Government may, by notification, stating the grounds of its opinion, declare every copy of the issue of the newspaper containing such matter, and every copy of such book or other document to be forfeited to Government, and thereupon any police officer may seize the same wherever in found in India and any Magistrate may by warrant authorize any police officer not below the rank of sub-inspector to enter upon and search for the same in any premises where any copy of such issue or any book or other document may be or may be reasonably suspected to be.�

Section 5 of The Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act, 1911states that:
�The District Magistrate or the Commissioner of Police, as the case may be, may at any time, by order in writing, of which public notice shall forthwith be given, prohibit any public meeting in a proclaimed area if, in his opinion, such meeting is likely to promote sedition or disaffection or to cause a disturbance of the public tranquility.�

Modern Definition Of Sedition

The validity of the sedition was confirmed by the Constitution Bench in 1962 in Kedarnath Singh vs. State of Bihar. In delivering the Kedarnath trial, the court said there was a need to provide some parameters on the government's unrestricted use of sedition as it could result in encroachment of personal freedom.

Balwant Singh vs State of Punjab in 1995 was also an important case in relation to sedition. This case concerned the slogans raised by three men after the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

The Supreme Court considered that �the casual increase in slogans, once or twice by two individuals alone, cannot be considered as an aim to excite or attempt to arouse hatred or dissatisfaction on the part of the government.

Recent Application Of Sedition Law In India

Some of the cases in recent times when people have been accused of sedition are:
  1. A student's mother and a teacher at a Karnataka school were arrested and charged for sedition in January 2020 by the state police. This happened after the school had its students present a play that was allegedly against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Citizens Registry (NRC).
  2. In January 2020, Nalini Balakumar, a student at Mysore University, held up a placard saying 'Free Kashmir' in an anti-CAA protest. She was charged for sedition.
  3. The police arrested several protesters for sedition after the violence broke out in Mangalore on December 19, 2019. This happened after the police used tear gas bombs at a hospital in Mangalore. They also opened fire on protesters in Bunder, which killed two people.
  4. Police have booked 135 people protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act under sedition and arrested 20 of them in Uttar Pradesh' Azamgarh.
  5. Victim of Sec 124A is 19-year-old Amulya Leona.Bengaluru police arrested her for saying �Pakistan� among the countries which she hailed as �zindabad� in a public forum. All Amulya did was indulge in slogan shouting and the Supreme Court held in a 1995 case that mere sloganeering does not amount to sedition.
  6. FIR against �The Wire� editor for allegedly making objectionable comments about Adityanath.
  7. FIR against Swara Bhasker for raising her voice in anti CAA and NRC protest
Even before Amulya's arrest, more than twenty people in Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Karnataka (where police questioned school children during a play) and Manipur have been detained for sedition. Also in these cases there appears to be a flagrant breach of the Supreme Court guidelines

Justification Of Amending Sedition Law

In 1897, the country was plagued with bacterial infections and Tilak was saddened by the way the epidemic was handled and wrote some articles in "Kesari" against the British. Naturally, the British did not appreciate the question raised by Tilak and accused him of treason before the High Court in Bombay.

So does this mean freedom fighters like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi were traitors or anti national?
They certainly were, but only for the British government as the issues they raised caused problems for their reputation. As is believed, History repeats itself.Today the country is again battling against covid 19, doctors are being asked not be revolutionaries and not to demand Personal Protective Equipment . In another case, an FIR was brought against "The Wire'' editor Siddharth Vardajan for his article on UP CM attending the ceremony that took place at Ram Janmabhoomi during the lockdown.

The government is discouraging any investigation and questioning the number of patients and how the authorities are handling the situation. The government just wants us to say and write what suits them. Basically, regardless of who the authorities are, sedition has been used as a political tool by all those in power.The sedition is simply an excuse to paralyze the dissent and the questions that are raised against the Government.

Many freedom fighters were booked on charges of sedition, including Mahatma Gandhi. After Independence there have been debates about the law. In the end, lawmakers agreed to keep sedition in our constitution. Jawahar Lal Nehru called the sedition obnoxious and objectionable in 1951 but did nothing to remove it either. Even after Independence, we continue to use this law according to the whims and fancies of the government. The British themselves have repealed this law from their constitution in 2010 . However, in India, the Indian authorities use this law indecisively.

In India, calling to shoot those who the government believes are traitors is not sedition, as the Delhi court defers the order in pursuit of a complaint against Anurag Thakur, Pravesh Verma for hate speech, but casually praising another country can be accused of sedition .Like women who raised "Pakistan zindabad" slogan sent to judicial custody for 14 days. Although in Balwant Singh Court it ruled that casually chanting a slogan would not be considered sedition until it incites violence or social disorder in this country.

As people keep forwarding messages on WhatsApp without double checking, the Government has also been charging any voices of dissent without even thinking once. Whether in Congress or in the BJP government, everyone is guilty of using the sedition at their disposal.

Courts have constantly expressed their discomfort with the irrational use of sedition by the Indian government. In Balwant Singh court even said that �Khalistan Zindabad '' is not sedition as it did not lead to violence directly. Even then writing letter to the Prime Minster of India against mob lynching is considered as sedition today. Even performing play against CAA is sedition but �Our side hasn�t thrown any stones.DCP is with us. I am speaking on your behalf .We are leaving quietly till US President Trump�s visit. But after that we won�t even listen to you (police)if the roads aren�t cleared. Okay?� by a politician such as Kapil Mishra is not sedition.

If there is a law that literally says that any express disaffection with the government is sedition, it is bound to be misused.For example 10,000 farmers were charged with sedition in a village of Jharkhand for demanding their land rights provided in the Constitution.

In Karnataka not only the mother of a student and Principal were charged under sedition even Karnataka police found questioning the kids.Not only that in Delhi sedition was filed against some activists who were demanding action against Kapil Mishra speech which led to pogrom in North-east Delhi.

According to the NCRB, around 35 cases of sedition were recorded in 2016, while in 2018 that number rose to 70, but the conviction rate is much lower. In the past 5 years, the trial has only been completed in 43 cases and only 4 of these cases resulted in a conviction. The conviction rate in 2016 was 16.7% in 2017, it was 33.3% and 15.4% in 2018 . A person accused of sedition has to live without their passport, they are excluded from government jobs and they have to go to court on a loop with legal fees. Charges have rarely been proven in most cases, but the process itself becomes the punishment.

Sedition is not only misused by the BJP government, but also by the Congress party . In 2016, when the Congress party was in power in Karnataka, Bengaluru police accused Amnesty India of sedition charges. It was later discovered that sedition can only be blamed on an individual and not an entire organization.Before that, in 2012, sedition was reportedly used against protesters in the case of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant. In 2016, a sedition charge was filed against a folk singer for writing a song against Jayalalitha.

The current interpretation of the offense of sedition which essentially has its essence as incitement to violence or the creation of public disturbance. Therefore, in light of the various state provisions and that of the I.P.C., it does not seem necessary to have a central law to cover the same offense which does not have uniform application in society.

In short, it can be said that sedition is used to intimidate and terrorize the citizen.

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  • Amarnath K Menon , �10,000 people charged with sedition in one Jharkhand district. What does democracy mean here?�,The (New Delhi,Nov 19, 2019 � 09:00 am)last accessed 15th September 2020
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  • Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar,"Amnesty International Issues Rebuttal to Sedition Charges",The Wire(16 AUGUST 2016)last accessed 15th September 2020
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  • Livemint ,"Republic of dissent: Gandhi�s sedition trial",Live Mint (New Delhi ,25 Jan 2019, 08:49 AM IST),last accessed on 4th October 2020
  • Prasun Sonawalker , �Sedition law in UK abolished in 2009, continues in India�,The Hindustan Times ( 16 February 2016 , 11:27 IST),last accessed 15th September 2020
  • PTI, �UP Police File Sedition Case Against 135 CAA Protesters In Azamgarh� NDTV(New Delhi,February 06, 2020 9:24 pm IST)<>,,last accessed 15th September 2020
  • QUINT ENTERTAINMENT,"Plea Filed in Delhi HC Seeking FIR Against Swara for Hate Speech",The Quint(New Delhi ,28 Feb 2020, 06:38 PM IST)<>,last accessed 15th September 2020
  • Rohini Swamy, �Student who shouted �Pakistan Zindabad� on Owaisi stage had praised Modi hours before�,The Print (New Delhi,21 February,2020 4.15 pm IST),,last accessed 12th September,2020
  • Saswat Singhdeo,"Tamil Folk Artiste Arrested For Writing A Song On Alcohol Prohibition Criticising Jayalalitha Govt",The SW(Oct 30, 2015 at 15:31)last accessed 15th September 2020
  • Satya Prakash , �To repeal or not: Nehruvian dilemma on sedition law� , The Tribune(10 September 2018,1:05 AM IST), last accessed 15th September 2020
  • Saumya Parmarthi,"Public Order As a Ground for Restriction Over Freedom of Speech & Expression",Scholarticles(August 31, 2015),last accessed on 4th October 2020
  • Shreyas Hs , �Karnataka�s Shaheen School booked for sedition , students quizzed over anti CAA play�(New Delhi ,29 January ,2020 8.39 IST),, ,last accessed 12th September,2020
  • SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT ,"Nalini Balakumar case: Siddaramaiah condemns Mysore Advocates�", The Hindu (Karnataka,JANUARY 22, 2020 15:04 IST),last accessed on 3rd october 2020
  • SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, �Two die in police firing in Mangaluru as anti-CAA protests rock the country�,The Hindu( New Delhi,DECEMBER 20, 2019 10:39 IST)<>,last accessed 15th September 2020
  • SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT,�Anurag Thakur evades queries on hate speech�,The Hindu(Chandigarh ,March 1 2020 ,21:44 IST),Last accessed 15th September 2020
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  • Annie besant vs advocate general of madras 1919, 21 BOMLR 867
  • Balwant singh vs State of Punjab, 1995 (1) SCR 411
  • Kedarnath Singh vs State of Bihar ,1962, AIR 955
  • King Emperor Vs Sadashiv Narayan Bhalerao 1947, AIR(PC) 82
  • Niharendu Dutt Majumdar Vs King Emperor 1942, FCR 48
  • Romesh Thapar vs State of Madras 1950, AIR 124
  • Tara Singh Gopi vs State of Punjab 1951, CriLJ 449

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