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Story of Sedition law in India

The law of sedition has always been the most controversial topic of constitutional law and sometimes we have seen that sedition law is categorised under the purview of anti-national. But in reality, the anti-national threat to the country is different from the sedition law. Many times voices have been raised against the abolition of this sedition law, but the Government showed their intention in a written reply in Rajya sabha in July 2019, that there is no plan to scrap the provision under the IPC dealing with the offence of sedition, instead, they claimed effectively that there is a need to retain the provision in combating anti-nationals, secessionist and terrorist element.

This law shows the colonial mindset because it was introduced by the British in 1870 and this is 2022, there is a gap of 152 years. Over the period of time, India has developed and revamped to the standard of a modern country and many laws have been amended in due course time as required by the society and judiciary. Very often the government of India is faced with concern for using section 124A of the Indian penal code (IPC) against vocal critics of their policies.

The meaning of sedition was well explained by Lord Fitzgerald in the case of, Reg v. Alexander Martin Sullivan, (1868).Under section 124A Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise brings or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the government established by law in India.'' Sedition is a non-bailable offence. It 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.''

Origin of sedition law

The sedition law has been used in many parts of the world and has been freely used by many successive governments in India. The law of sedition has existed since 1590 in England. It came to India with the British Raj and was added to the Indian Penal code (IPC) in 1870 under section 124A. It was drafted by British historian-politician Thomas Badington Macaulay.
When the British government realised that law which suppressed the voice, demanding more autonomy and Independence of India, then subsequently, in 1870, section 124A was added to chapter VI of IPC, which deals with offences against states.

This is a response to the rising radical Wahhabi movement, led by Syed Ahmed Barelvi. Sedition was primarily used to curb the nationalists feeling from getting developed to curb the nationalist movement for freedom in India and it was overused, misused and abused in the colonial period.
Two high profile freedom fighters filed sedition cases again, one of Lokmanya tilak and other of Mahatma Gandhi.

Lokmanya Tilak Sedition cases:

Lokmanya tilak was a fairy leader and he was booked under sedition cases twice. He was charged with sedition in 1897 for writing an article in his weekly publication magazine called kesari. They critished the British government policy during famine. Despite the fact that people were under crisis, the British government insisted on collecting land revenue.

British government booked Tilak for sedition because he is inciting people to violence, and his lawyer was Dinshaw Davar. He applied for bail but bail was not granted and then trial started in front of Justice Arthur Strachey. Tilak pleaded not guilty, 18 month in Jail. He was convicted in sedition. Despite the fact that Bal Gangadhar tilak was a member of the Bombay legislative council.

Tilak's Second trial for sedition

The Partition of Bengal was in 1905, the British government said that it is primarily because of administration convenience. Tilak writes articles and justifies violence at that time a bomb was hurled. The bomb was held by khudi rambose but accidently it killing two English women and British blamed Tilak on the bases on article writing. Tilak's residence in puna was searched but nothing was found except a card on which tilak was written the names of two books on explosives. Justice Dinshaw Davar Judgement, Tilak journalism was a curse of India, booked for sedition & convicted for sedition and sent to jail for six year.

Mahatma Gandhi trial for sedition:

The father of nation, Mohandas karamchand gandhi, was jailed under the charge of sedition. Non-cooperation movement, khilafat movement was at its peak but then there was violence as well. Ultimately he started writing articles for young India and there article the british government said he is promoting disaffection against the government establishment by law, because of his writing people resorted to violence.

Justice Broomsfield, Mahatma Gandhi said that was spectacular at that time. I am guilty of was sentenced to six year Jail.
Sedition was used as a law for criminalising dissent and not letting nationalist feeling from getting developed. Primarily objective to control their grip over the people of India.

Sedition law after Independence:

First meeting of the constitution Assembly was discussed on 9 December 1946. It was the first time the founding fathers of the constitution discussed Sedition. One of the committees regarding Fundamental rights headed by Sardar Patal. He said, now In our fundamental right, there is freedom of speech and expression but these can't be absolute. There has to be reasonable restrictions. One such reasonable restriction should be Sedition. Other members of the constitution assembly don't agree with it. Sedition was misused by the colonial government.

K.M Munshi, one of the members of the constitution assembly. He moved an amendment, sedition was removed as ground on the basis of freedom of speech and expression.
Former Prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru brought the first amendment of the constitution in 1951 to limit freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) and enacted Article 19(2) the reasonable restriction.

It was the first time in Indian History, In 1973 Indira Gandhi introduced Sedition 124A cognizable offence. In the new Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, which came into force in 1974 and repealed the colonial-era 1898 Code of Criminal Procedure, sedition was made a cognisable offence authorising the police to make arrests without a warrant.

Case Law

Tara Singh Gopi Chand v/s. The state

In 1951 Punjab High court held that section 124A was an undeniable restriction on freedom of speech and expression and nullified provision on the basis that fundamental rights are unconstitutional. It was this judgement that promoted the Nehru government and introduced new grounds on which the right to freedom of speech and expression could be reasonably restricted.

Ram Nandan Vs. The state

In Ram Nandan v. State, the High Court of Allahabad overturned the conviction of Ram Nandan for a speech he made to a group of villagers. Justice Gurtu explained that it was possible for people who legitimately and peaceably criticise the Government to be caught in "the mischief of Section 124-A of the Penal Code". For this reason he said it should be invalidated.

Fatehgarh Vs. Dr. Ram Monohar Lohia (1960)

Ram monohar lohia, the famous socialist leader. He gave speeches and attended rallies. Citizens do not need to pay their taxes and other liabilities. Basically he was violating a law, the United province special power act of 1932.

The states argued that even something as innocuous but as call not pay taxes could be a flames of country revolution. The court rejected this argument. It held that the state must establish a 'Proximate' or 'imminent' connection between speech and violence, and not merely rely upon hypotheticals, or remote possibilities.

Kedar Nath Singh Vs. State of Bihar (1962)

In 1953, kedar Nath, as a member of communist party in Bihar. In a public rally, he condemned rully party of congress,after independent congress goonda are on the gaddi.They have today established a rule of lathis, bullets in the country. We call revolution in which capitalists, zamindars and Congress leaders will be reduced to ashes, and on their ashes will be established a government of the poor and the downtrodden people of India.

The fiery speech led to convicted of sedition charges, and an appeal to Patna high court was struck down. Then 1962, kedar Nath singh came before supreme court on the question to section 124A, constitutional validity.

In this landmark verdict, First time supreme court constitutional validity of sedition. The five-judge Bench comprised Chief Justice B.P Sinha and Justices A.K Sarkar, J.R Mudholkar, N Rajagopala Ayyangar and S.K Das.

In a democratic country, the right of freedom of speech and expression is a sine qua non. But freedom of speech and expression must be a reasonable restriction mentioned in article 19(2) under sovereignty, safety, integrity, friendly relation with foreign states, public order, decency, morality or contempt of court. The Supreme Court held that Section 124A and Section 505 of IPC are intra vires of the Constitution and in harmony with A.19(1)(a) read with A.19(2) of the Constitution. Also, that the accused has no intention to create public disorder, disturbance of law and order established by the law.

Constitutional Validity of Section 124A IPC

The three judge bench of supreme court, chief justice of India N.V Ramna and justice surya kant and Hima kohli, put on hold and re-examine the validity of section 125A(Sedition). A five judge bench in Kedarnath singh vs. state of bihar (1962) upheld the validity of the law.

In the current sceniore, supreme court asks centre government to re- examine the sedition.The judge bench has made clear that it would first decide the issue of referral to large bench, before hearing in kedarnath singh should be reconsidered.

Attorney general of India, K.K Venugopal who asked by supreme court to assist the court, questioned the maintainability of the petitions seeking reconsiderations of kedarnath singh judgement.he said that the Kedar Nath Singh judgement upholding the validity of sedition is well balanced and does not call for reconsideration.

On 11st may 2022, the supreme court put on hold trial in all sedition cases pending before court across the country, Until the government promised exercises to re-examine and re-consider the provisions of section 124A.

Sedition is controversial because it's misused by the government in maximum times. In Case Vinod Dua vs Union of India 2021, the supreme court quashed FIRs with charges of sedition against the journalist for criticising Prime minister Narandra Modi's handling of the covid-19 crisis and cautioned against unlawful application of the provision.The supreme court held the ''enormous power of misused'' of the sedition law in India.

As per since 2014 to 2020, the national crime record bureau (NCRB) data 399 sedition cases have been filed across the country. 322 cases filed between 2016-20, chargesheet were filed in only 144. Pendency of cases with police rose from 72% in 2016 to 82% in 2020.

As per legal scholars, Indians don't need sedition law. If you have Unlawful activities prevention act 1967. It emphasises to come out from a colonial mindset.

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