In the rich legal history of our country, there has been no other law that
embodies the concept of imperialism as thoroughly as the law of Sedition. The
extensive and vast power of Section 124A has been used since colonial times to
silence the voices of disapproval against the British Government. Abundant cases
starting from Jogendra Chandra Bose to Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak in
the 20th century and landmark cases like Kedarnath Singh's in the 21st century,
show us that even though the British left our country, their spirit of
imperialism still lives on through the law of Sedition.
In this paper, the fundamental nature of the law of Sedition has been explained,
by starting with its legislative history, how and when it was drafted and
enforced in the IPC, the landmark cases occurring throughout history, and how it
has been misused. The author has pointed out why this draconian and imperial law
needs to be removed from the IPC as it is not needed in contemporary India.
History Of Sedition Law
The British left a colonial law, which they used to silence Mahatma Gandhi and
suppress the freedom movement. Even after 75 years of Independence, the harsh
law of Sedition is still used in our country. A colonial legal legacy left by
the British, Sedition, as a law, is controversial in nature and has always been
used by politicians to their advantage in the modern world. Section
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 a fine may be added; or, with imprisonment which may extend to three
years, to which a fine may be added; or, with fine.
During colonial rule, Thomas Babington Macaulay was appointed as the chair
of the First Law Commission by the Parliament, and they proposed the
codification of a penal code. After two years in 1837, Macaulay finished
drafting the penal code of which Clause 113 read:
Whoever, by words, either
spoken or intended to be read, or by signs, or by his visible representation,
attempts to excite feelings of disaffection to the Government established by law
in the territories of the East India Company, among any class of People who live
under that Government, shall be punished with banishment for life or any other
term, from the territories of the East India Company, to which fine may be
added, or with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years,
to which fine may be added, or with fine".
This particular clause was later embodied in Section 124A of the Indian Penal
Code by the British Government in the year 1870 in order to tackle disapproval
against the colonial rule; this particular law was not included in the original
draft of the IPC enacted in 1860. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the
sedition law was mainly used to suppress speeches and writings by essential
freedom fighters and Indian nationalists.
The very first known case of Sedition
was the trial of Jogendra Chandra Bose, a newspaper editor, in 1891. One of
the most prominent incidents regarding sedition law was the trials of Bal
Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi.
It has also been said that this colonial law
was first derived from the Sedition Act of 1661, the purpose of which was the
safety and preservation of his majesty's person and the British Government
against treasonable and seditious practices.
Even though in today's modern world, the law of Sedition had been abolished in
Great Britain in 2009, it continues its unnecessary existence in the Indian
Use Of Sedition Law In Independent India
The most controversial element of the law of Sedition is that its very existence
threatens and contravenes with Fundamental Right of Speech and Expression
guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
Section 124A of the IPC may have been necessary to control crime in the early
years of Independence, but that is not the case in the 21st century; in this
time and day, it is merely a tool used by political leaders to get their way.
There are many instances to prove the line above, the most prominent one was the
landmark case of Kedarnath Singh v. State of Bihar
, which took place in the year
1962, the appellant here, i.e., Kedarnath Singh who was a member of the Forward
Communist Party Bihar had used certain words like goondas for the Indian
National Congress Party and dogs for the C.I.D. Officers, after which he also
said that he believes revolution will come and that the political leaders of the
country and the capitalists will burn in the flames of that revolution, and then
a new government of the poor will come into existence rising from those flames.
The statement that he made and the words that he used ended up with a case being
filed against him on the grounds of Section 124A of the IPC, Sedition and also
Section 505, Public mischief, sentencing him to imprisonment for one year. When
the case was appealed in the Patna High court, a single bench of the High Court
dismissed it on the grounds that the terms used by the appellant, Kedarnath
Singh, were nothing but insults against the Government. Though his speech on
revolution was full of incitements and was certainly Seditious in nature, he did
not say anything that criticized any government policies or measures.
After this, the appeal was further taken up to the Supreme Court's division
bench, the reason being that the issue in question here was of the
constitutional validity of Section 124A and Section 505 of the IPC. The Supreme
Court referred to two different judgements, one of the privy council,
King-Emperor V. Sadashiv Narayan Bhalerao
and one of the federal court,
Niharendu Dutt Majumdar V. The King
The case from the Federal court, if used
and accepted here, would have resulted in restrictions on the fundamental right
that are guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, whereas
if the case from the privy court were chosen, then the sections of the IPC here
would have been declared as unconstitutional in the view of Article 19(1)(a)
along with Article 19(2). Of course, the appeal was dismissed yet again.
Finally, since both judgments made that difficult, the final judgement was
Section 124A intra-vires, which stated that the Supreme Court decided in that
decision that it is essential for the stability of the State to recognise the
activity against the state as a crime since the government established by the
law, which is the very existence of the state, is a visible symbol of the state.
Therefore any act of disloyalty towards a government established by law or
hostility against that government would be included in the criminal statute,
since it would imply a tendency to a public disorder through the use of actual
violence or incitement to violation of law.
Any act which would destroy the
government through contempt or hate, or create disaffection against that
government. The court has made clear that the basic right of speech and
expression is not being taken away, but only a reasonable limitation which is
essential to the safety of the state. Reasonable restriction was also part of
the judgement; the Supreme Court is regarded as the apex Court guaranteeing
fundamental rights. They need to tell people what a basic right is and where the
legislature can impose reasonable restrictions for the integrity and security of
The precedent, in this case, has helped in many cases where appeals regarding
seditious behaviour have been made.
Why Should The Law Of Sedition Be Removed From The Indian Penal Code?
The law of Sedition, as stated by the Supreme Court in the precedent of
Kedarnath Singh V. State of Bihar, is valid, but certain restrictions are
essential because otherwise, violation of fundamental rights would be in
However, even after this precedent by the apex court, the law has been used
regardless of whether the alleged acts that are seditious in nature have
resulted in any public disorder or incitement to violence against the
Government. This law is still unfairly used by politicians in order to silence
those who speak against them or criticize the Government; after the precedent of
the supreme court, it takes two special conditions for Sedition, but Sedition is
still easily used to distinguish the voice of those people who criticize the
Government, thus infringing upon fundamental rights of the citizens guaranteed
to them by the Constitution of India.
For this instance, there have been many cases, another judgement of Dr Binayak
Sen v. the State of Chhattisgarh. He was accused of Sedition against
Chhattisgarh Government, as he was alleged to have supported the Naxalites,
thereby violating the provision of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act
Another one was in 2011, while deciding a case under the now inoperative
Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (Tada), court held that
a member of terrorist organization could not be convicted for bare membership
unless he had been involved in inciting people to lawless action. Also, in the
famous Shreya Singhal case, the court distinguished between the terms "advocacy"
and "incitement" stating only the latter could be punished as only that will be
consistent with Article 19(2).
The very concept of Sedition law is related to unfair use of authority if
someone even says or does something which criticizes the Indian Government's
policies without any intention of inciting hate in others for the said
Government; in such cases, the political leaders can use the sedition law
extensively to their advantage, as they cannot even take fair criticism from the
public. The conditions mentioned in Section 124A of the IPC for Sedition law to
be charged very vast boundaries, logically, which is precisely why it is
challenging to apply it in certain situations and is quickly taken advantage of
to convict people who are not guilty.
Sedition law's nature is very common to the laws used since ancient times in
kingdoms, where a person used to get punished if they said even a single word
against royalty, though, of course, the punishments were much more severe than
imprisonment or charging with fine. The main point here is that this law is
draconian and ancient and is not fit to exist in the times we live in. India is
one of the most democratic countries, and the essence of democracy is people's
choice where we can choose our leaders, so of course, there is bound to be some
criticism, especially from people whose elected leaders do not win the
elections, but it does not necessarily mean that those people are trying to
incite hatred for the selected Government in others. If the sedition law is kept
in use even in the future, the results might be severely destructive.
The recently appointed Chief Justice of our country's Supreme Court, CJI
N.V.RAMANA asked why the colonial law applied against Mahatma Gandhi and Bal
Gangadhar Tilak continues to survive in the book after 75 years of independence,
in an unprecedented judicial critique of the government's use of sedition law to
crush freedoms. The CJI also said, "Sedition is a colonial law.
freedoms. It was used against Mahatma Gandhi, Tilak. Is this law necessary after
75 years of Independence?". Another statement made by him was, "The use of
sedition is like giving a saw to the carpenter to cut a piece of wood, and he
uses it to cut the entire forest itself". In the midst of the growing public
denunciation of the central and State law enforcement bodies using the
seditionary law to silence disagreements, free mouth and for deny bail to
imprisoned activists, journalists, students and civil society, a large number of
other statements he made in the courts have taken a note. Several petitions have
been filed highlighting the "chilling effect" sedition has on the fundamental
right of free speech.
Our country keeps pushing for modern views even when our leaders are afraid to
make changes like these as they think it will put them at a disadvantage. A tool
to control the masses, and stop them from saying what they can, without being
afraid of conviction, is what Sedition is, nothing more. Removing it from the
IPC will not be easy despite the numerous precedents regarding the sedition law,
and it will take time.
The law of Sedition no longer has any place or need in the modern world, and
thus it should be eliminated from the Indian Penal Code.
- Queen-Empress vs Jogendra Chunder Bose And Ors. on 25 August, 1891
- Kedarnath Singh v. State of Bihar on 20 January, 1962
- Dr Binayak Sen v. the State of Chhattisgarh
- Shreya Singhal v. Union of India on 25 March, 2015
Written By: Aryan Sarckar
- Imperialism- A political system in which one a country that is rich and
powerful controls other countries(colonies) which are not as powerful as
them in terms of wealth and other aspects.
- Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code mentions the Sedition Law.
- Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay of Rothley,
Leicestershire, England, was a British politician and historian.
- Clause 113 of Macaulay's penal code mentioned the law now known as the
Sedition law, which is now mentioned in Section 124A of the Indian Penal
- Jogendra Chandra Bose was the editor of a newspaper called Bangobasi in
the 19th century, he was also the first one to in India to face an
accusation under the law of sedition in the year 1891.
- Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India states that, all citizens
shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression.
- The Privy Council was merely a judicial body that heard appeals from
various British colonies, including India.
- The Federal Court of India was a judicial body with original and
advisory jurisdiction that was established in India in 1937 under the
provisions of the Government of India Act 1935.
- TADA was an Indian anti-terrorism law that was in effect between 1985
and 1995 (modified in 1987) against the backdrop of the Punjab insurgency
and applied to the entire country.
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