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Constitutional Validity of Sedition Under the IPC

Thomas Babington Macaulay wrote Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPS). Despite being associated with the Indian Freedom Struggle, it has been recognized as English law for centuries. This part was used to undermine the liberation cause against freedom fighters like Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi.

The first trial for sedition was held in the matter of Queen v. Jogendra Chandra Bose in the Bangabasi case (1891). For a long time, there was a lengthy dispute over the abuse of Section 124A and whether or not this clause should be ruled illegal.

It's worth noting that Britain eliminated the clause dealing with sedition in 2009, although India has Section 124A in the Code. Other democratic countries dealing with sedition laws, such as Australia, Canada, and Ireland, have deemed it undemocratic when such laws become barriers to freedom of speech and expression.

Sedition

Under Section 124A of IPC, Sedition is defined as a cognizable offence, non-bailable, and will be tried before the Court of Session. The Section 124A of IPC reads as:

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.

This is useful in the fight against separatist, anti-national movements, and terrorist factors, among others. It defends the elected government against attempts to destroy it through the use of violent acts and illegal methods. Maintaining the legitimacy of the legally created government is a crucial prerequisite for a state's coherence. If contempt of court leads to criminal charges, then contempt of government should lead to criminal charges as well.

Constitutional Validity of Sedition

This law has constantly been criticized for restricting our "freedom of expression" several times. It is also argued to be unclear how it has been sustained in a secular and independent country with democracy. Regardless, in the landmark case of Kedar Nath v State of Bihar, it was found to be constitutionally legitimate.

Later explanations were given stating that criticism of public measures or comments on the actions taken by the government as strongly worded as they would be shall be under a reasonable limit and would go hand in hand with the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression.

In another judgment of the Hon'ble Supreme Court in Balwant Singh and Anr. Vs. The state of Punjab that was booked under the violations of raising slogans like "Khalistan Zindabad" was stated as unsustainable as these slogans neither had an intention to encourage people or create a nuisance or create any problem to the law and order.

There was a dispute regarding whether Section 66-A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, deprives individuals of their right to free speech and expression in this age of technology when every remark and every point of view on any issue is accepted. This was highlighted by Shreya Singhal vs. Union of India where The court declared Section 66-A illegal and detailed several criteria for determining when speech and expression limitations are fair or fall within the bounds of Article 19(2) of India's constitution. The courts also ruled that legislation that transmits such a message is unconstitutional.

Sharjeel Imam v State of NCT of Delhi (10th July 2020), who was arrested in a case related to alleged inflammatory speeches made by him during protest rallies against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens in 2019, has been trying to get bail but has been unable to do so due to the punishment he faces and the offences committed.

Disha Ravi was detained by Delhi Police in connection with a toolkit on farmer demonstrations in early 2021 during farmer protests. She was charged with sedition, inciting hatred, and criminal conspiracy under the Indian Penal Code.

Rajat Sharma and Neh Srivastava have launched a Public Interest Litigation against Farooq Abdullah, the former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, over his comments on the Centre's decision to repeal Article 370. According to the petition, Abdullah discussed "restoring Article 370" with the "assistance of China."

Even if sedition is constitutionally permissible, it raises the question of whether Section 124A of the IP imposes a fair restriction on citizens' right to free speech and expression as granted by Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. Freedom of speech and expression is a basic right in a democratic country like India, and limitations must not go beyond the eight areas protected by Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution.

Conclusion:
Without a question, sedition is a divisive term that must be cautiously balanced against our constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression. While no citizen should be allowed to stir unwarranted animosity among the public or instigate violence and hatred against the administration, every citizen should be allowed to freely and openly voice their views on the government.

In some circumstances, Indian judges' perspectives and how the law is applied conflict, prompting some to call the law "draconian" in its interpretation. It may be the appropriate time to explore reforming this rule in an era where individuals are becoming increasingly conscious of their rights and individual liberty, as well as a developing feeling of responsibility and duty in our democratic society.

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