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An Analysis on Sedition Law

Constitutionality Of Sedition

What Is The Sedition Law?

Section 124A defines sedition 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 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."

Section 124-A of the IPC covers sedition. However, the section simply mentions the law of sedition in passing. Whereas it encompasses the crimes that are punishable by law, it does not provide a clear meaning of the term "sedition."

Justice Deepak Gupta: Criticism Of Government, Army & Judiciary Can't Be Construed As Sedition

"Criticism of the executive, the judiciary, bureaucracy, armed forces cannot be termed sedition," Justice Gupta remarked. "If we stifle criticism of these institutions, we shall become a police state instead of a democracy."

Speaking at a lawyers' workshop organised by a charitable trust in Ahmedabad, Justice Gupta said that majoritarianism cannot be the law and the minority also has the right to express its views. He slammed the tendency to declare people as "anti-national" for holding a different point of view. He also criticised social media trolling, maintaining that people were scared to express their views.

Right to Dissent
The freedom to dissent is the right to disagree. It falls under the scope of Article-19(1) of the Indian Constitution's Part-III (Fundamental Rights). Clause (1) of the Article provides all people the right to free speech and expression under subclause (a).

There can be no democratic democracy in which citizens have not the right to think for themselves, express their opinions, have their own beliefs and faith, and worship as they see fit.

The right to disagree is an essential component of both the right to free expression and the right to conscience. As a result, one of the most vital rights granted by our Constitution is the right to dissent. As long as a person does not infringe the law or incite discord, he has the right to believe differently from each and every other citizen and those who are in power.

Every culture has its own set of norms, and when people just follow the same old rules and traditions, society degenerates over time. When people disagree with widely held social norms, new thinkers emerge. If everyone stays on the well-trodden path, no new trails, no fresh excursions, and no new views will be discovered. If a person doesn't ask questions and raise issues that challenge age-old concepts and systems, no new systems will emerge and the mind's horizons would not grow.

New thoughts and religious practises would not have been established if Buddha, Mahavira, Jesus Christ, Prophet Mohammad, Guru Nanak Dev, Martin Luther, Kabir, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Karl Marx, or Mahatma Gandhi had quietly submitted to the views of their forefathers and not questioned the existing religious practises, beliefs, and rituals.

Every belief need not be religious in a secular society. According to the Constitution, atheists have equal rights. Under our Constitution, everyone, whether a believer, an agnostic, or an atheist, has full freedom of belief and conscience. There can be no barriers to the aforementioned rights other than those allowed by the Constitution.

HR Khanna, J.'s decision in the A.D.M. Jabalpur case is a remarkable example of dissent that is far more valuable than the majority's view. It was a bold and incorruptible Judge's decision. Judges take an oath, swearing or affirming that they would carry out their duties to the best of their abilities, without any fear or hesitation, affection or malice. The first and most important component of one's job is to execute one's duty without fear.

History Of Sedition

The term "sedition" first appeared in history in 1590, during in the Elizabethan period in England, when a statute was created to safeguard the monarch and the government against any potential revolts. However, the law has been challenged and contested over its existence at various times. Following that, in 1977, the British Statute Commission proposed that Sedition law be repealed in their country.

The term "sedition" first appears in print in 1590, during the Elizabethan period in England, when a statute was enacted to protect the monarch and the government from prospective revolts. Yet, the legislation's existence has been disputed and disputed at multiple events. After that, the British Statute Commission has proposed repealing the Sedition Act in their country in 1977.

This rule originated in India during in the British Empire, as Section 113 of Macaulay's Draft Penal Code of 1837, as part of the First Law Commission report chaired by Thomas Macaulay in 1834. However, sedition really wasn't part of the IPC when it was adopted in 1860, rather, it was incorporated into the IPC as Section 124A by the IPC amendment act of 1870.

The Wahabi Movement, an Islamic revivalist movement led by Syed Ahmed Barlvi, created the necessity for this Section. This movement had been active ever since 1830s, but it became armed opposition during the Great Revolt of 1857. As a result, the British inserted Section 124A into the IPC, proclaimed the Wahabis traitors, and launched a massive military campaign against them.

The Essence Of Section 124A

The essential ingredients of Section 124A are that:
  • There should be words, Signs, Visible representation or otherwise,
  • Brings or attempt to bring into hatred or contempt,
  • Excite disaffection, towards the Government established by law

Penalty For Sedition

  • A person guilty of sedition is penalised by imprisonment ranging from 3 years to a lifetime, a fine, or both, according to Section 124A of the IPC
  • Sedition is a cognisable offence, which implies that the police will arrest someone accused of sedition without the need for a warrant.
  • Sedition is a non-bailable charge, thus the police cannot, as a matter of right, release someone who has been arrested for it on bail. He must ask for bail in front of a court or magistrate.
  • Because sedition is a non-compoundable offence, it cannot be resolved through a compromise between both the accused and the victim.

Which Activities Are Considered Seditious?

According to the Indian courts' view of sedition, the following are examples of seditious activities:
  • A group of individuals raised chants against the Indian government.
  • A person's rhetoric calls for violence or public unrest.
  • Provokes violence or social disruption through written material, such as a newspaper story.

Words, Conduct Or Anything Else

The first and most important element of sedition under Section 124A is some act performed by an individual or a group of individuals. A gesture or sign, spoken or written remarks, etc. In a sedition trial, the very first thing which must be proven is that the individual on trial did participate in the conduct prior determining whether it was seditious or not. A case for sedition can't be brought against the accused unless there are actual gestures or remarks that can be linked back to him.

Excites/Tries To Excite Disaffection, Or Brings/Tries To Bring Into Hatred Or Contempt

The core of sedition is found in the intent of the accused. Such a person must actively seek to instil hatred, disgust, or disdain for the government inside the minds of the masses. Disillusionment has been defined as any feelings of disloyalty or animosity against the state (Explanation 1 under Section 124A).

The act or phrase itself can reveal a person's desire to sow hatred or discontentment. The simple attempt to incite hatred is penalised under the Section, thus it is not essential to determine whether the perpetrator achieved the objectives or not.

In case it is a speech, it should be studied as a whole, freely and fairly. On this basis, the intention of the speaker should also be judged. Words should not be taken out of context. Only if the speech advocated for a rebellion or action to overthrow the Government through dishonest or illegal means, with the use of violence or even the threat of violence, should that speech be included in sedition.

Niharendu Dutt Majumdar V. King-Emperor (1942)

The present case of Niharendu Dutt Majumdar And Ors. vs Emperor, the appellant gave a speech in Calcutta on April 13, 1941 which led him to be charged and convicted of sedition and sentenced to 6 months in prison and a Rs. 500 fine. This decision was overturned on the basis that the appellant's remarks did not justify sedition.

According to the court, sedition fundamentally means a person's purpose to cause public public unrest or his reasonable expectation that his/her words or conduct will cause public disruption. As a result, "inciting violence or the propensity or desire to cause public disruption" is a critical component of sedition. Concerning the Facts of the case, it was determined that the appellant's speech did not beyond the legal limitations of government criticism and, hence, couldn't be termed sedition under the Defense of India Act, 1939. (this Act was repealed in 1947).

Government Established By Law

The primary premise underlying sedition is that the government created by law in a state should stay stable, and there should be no contempt for it that could jeopardise the state's integrity through insurrection. As a result, an essential component of the crime of sedition under Section 124A is that the person's conduct or speech convey hatred towards the government and inspire discontentment and violence against government as constituted by law in India.

The Supreme Court noted for the first time in Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar (1962) that the term "Government established by law" here does not mean "the persons for the time being engaged in carrying on the administration," but rather refers to the Government as "the visible symbol of the State."

Expressing Disapprobation- Explanations 2 And 3

Section 124A provides three reasons. Explanations 2 and 3 both attempt to explain whatever cannot be included in sedition. They claim that statements expressing a person's disapprobation, i.e. disapprobation or dislike of the Government of India's measures or acts, are not constituted sedition if the main goal is to bring about such a lawful reform in the Government's policies without inciting hatred or contempt for it. The court intended to avoid a literal interpretations of Section 124A by including these explanations in the IPC.

Both the explanations are critical, as Section 124A would be insufficient without them. This is because they recognize a citizen's 'Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression,' implying that people's criticism of the state and its policies is a key aspect of a democracy and thus cannot be taken away.

Tara Singh Gopi Chand V. The State, (1951)

The Punjab and Haryana High Court considered the constitutional validity of Section 124A in this case. Tara Singh was facing two court cases in connection with two speeches he gave in Karnal and Ludhiana. Section 124A was one of the sections under which he had been prosecuted. He argued that the crime of sedition is unsuitable in India after foreign rule has ended, and that Section 124A should be ruled unconstitutional because it violates the 'Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression' given by Article 19 of the Constitution.

The High Court agreed with the contention that Section 124A was constitutionally defective and violated the "Fundamental Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression." It overturned this clause while also quashing the charges against Tara Singh and ordering his release. In the case of Ram Nandan v. State (1959), the Allahabad Court issued an identical Judgment, declaring Section 124A to be unconstitutional.

In response to such opposition to the Anti-Sedition Act, the Government of India filed an appeal with the Supreme Court. In the case of Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar(1962), the Supreme Court reviewed the legitimacy of this colonial-era law for the first time.

Some More Important Judicial References


Reg V. Alexander Martin Sullivan (1868)

Fitzgerald, J. defined sedition in this case, which was heard in the United Kingdom, as any behaviour "by word, deed, or writing" that attempts to cause a scene in a state and incite disgruntlement against the state's legislature and the laws of the empire. He stated that the purpose of sedition would be to incite dissent and insurrection within the state. It is evidence of disloyalty to the state. He went on to say that sedition is a societal crime which is very comparable to treason, frequently falling just short of being labelled as the latter. This case was a cornerstone in the development of the notion of sedition.

Queen-Empress V. Jogendra Chunder Bose And Ors. (1891)

In the case of Jogendra Chunder Bose was charged with encouraging rebellion by publishing an article in his Bengali journal, 'Bangobasi.' In this paper, he criticised the Age of Consent Act of 1891, which raised the legal age limit for women to engage in sexual intercourse between 10 to 12 years. He referred to it as "forced Europeanization," and he criticised the British government was involved in Hindu practices.

Whereas the Act was a gift to Indian society supported by reformers and women's rights organisations, the issue here has been sedition and incitement of violence against the government. Chief Justice Petheram defined "disaffection" against the government of course as "a sentiment opposed to attachment, in other words, dislike or hatred" and also included treason towards the government. With regard to the fate of the accused, in this case, Bose was released on bail and the case against him was dropped.

Queen-Empress V. Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1897)

Section 124A was defined and applied for the first time in this instance.

In this case, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, a well-known independence fighter and advocate, was charged with sedition. In contrast to Pune Plague Commissioner Rand of the Indian Civil Services, he stood apart. Many others, notably Tilak, considered Rand's disease control efforts to be draconian. His revolutionary sentiments prompted others to wage war on the British, leading to the deaths of two British officers.

The judge termed the absence of attachment as disenchantment. As a result, it expresses "hatred, animosity, dislike, antagonism, contempt, or any sort of ill-will towards to the Government." The court went on to state that no one should inspire or strive to instigate any such disillusionment, and no one should ever create or attempt to create enmity towards the government. Carefully considering all of this, the court judged Bal Gangadhar Tilak guilty of sedition and sentenced him to 18 months in prison. In 1898, although, he was released on bail.

Great Trial Of 1922

  • For his columns in his publication, 'Young India,' Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned for six years.
  • He was charged with "bringing or attempting to bring disaffection against His Majesty's Government established by law in British India."
  • Section 124A was dubbed "Prince among the political parts of the Indian Penal Code designed to limit the freedom and liberty of the citizen" by Mahatma Gandhi.


Brij Bhushan And Another Vs The State Of Delhi (1950)

In this case, the petitioners addressed the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. Mr. Brij Bhushan was the printer and publisher, while K.R. Halkani was the editor of the Organizer, an English weekly published in Delhi. The petitioners are served with an order by the Chief Commissioner of Delhi on March 2, 1950, pursuant to Section 7(1)(c) of the East Punjab Safety Act, 1949. According to the ruling, the petitioners must submit a duplicate copy of all communal matter, news and views about Pakistan, including images and caricatures, except than any of those derived from official reports or provided by news agencies, before publishing for inspection.

As per the responders, the published articles in the Organizer endanger the state's public law and security. The petitioners contend that the decision breaches the basic right to free expression and also that the respondent's order does not fall within the legitimate constraints provided in Article 19 (2) of the Indian Constitution. As a result, the petitioners asked the court to issue certiorari and prohibition writs to the respondent, as well as to investigate the constitutionality of the respondent's order.

Taking into account the arguments advanced by both parties in support of their opposing claims, the Bench determined that the question before them was whether the impugned act was constitutionally valid and whether it fell within the reasonable constraints of Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution.

The Court determined that pre-censorship of the press infringes their liberty as well as their freedom of speech and expression. Section 7(1)(c) of the contested Act was not a statute dealing to matters undermining or tending to overthrow the State. As a result, it is not covered by Article 19(2) of the Constitution. The Court granted the petition and overturned the Chief Commissioner of Delhi's Judgment.

Romesh Thappar Vs The State Of Madras (1950)

The petitioner was the printer, publisher, and editor of the English newspaper Cross Roads, which was printed and published in Bombay. The entry and dissemination of the newspaper were prohibited in the former state of Madras under Section 9 (1-A) of the Madras Maintenance of Public Order Act, 1949. In reaction to the ban, the petitioner filed a writ petition with the Supreme Court, claiming that the powers granted by the Act constituted an unreasonable restriction on freedom of expression in violation of Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. In response to which, it was determined on behalf of the respondent State that the restriction was necessary for public safety and order. This might be equated with state security, which is a justifiable constraint upon freedom of expression under Article 19. (2).

According to J. Patanjali Sastri, security of the state is a justifiable restriction under Article 19 (2) of the Constitution. The words employed in the challenged provision of the Act, on the other hand, are 'public safety and public order.' The Court determined that the two phrases must be interpreted jointly.

According to the Act, the limitations were permitted for the larger goal of maintaining public order. It drew similarities with the Indian Penal Code as well as other texts to demonstrate that public order has a broad scope, encompassing crimes such as reckless driving. Expression freedom The Court also overturned the Government's decision to ban the publication.

J.Fazal concluded that the maintenance of peace and tranquillity was a part of maintaining security of the State. Therefore, he disagreed with the majority opinion and asserted that the Act imposed reasonable restrictions on freedom of expression and must be upheld as valid.

Kedar Nath Singh Vs State Of Bihar (1962)

In the case of Kedar Nath Singh, a member of the Forward Communist Party, took on the ruling Congress Party through the means of incorrect phrases. The ruling party, for example, is sucking the blood of the mazdoors, the "dogs of the CID," the "goondas of the gaddi," and Kisan. He further said that "capitalists and zamindars" aided Congress. He believed in revolution and notably targeted Vinoba Bhave for causing public uncertainty and accusing Congress of bribery, corruption, and black marketing. In this instance, the accused was charged with sedition and violating Section 505 of the IPC.

The right to free speech and expression is a sine qua non in a democratic country, although reasonable limitations, as specified in A. 19(2), are required in the sake of sovereignty, safety, integrity, cordial relations with foreign governments, public order, morality, or contempt of court. As a result, every law enacted to maintain public order is in violation of the Constitution. As a result, the Supreme Court ruled that Sections 124A and 505 of the IPC are constitutionally permissible and in accordance with A.19(1)(a) read with A.19(2) of the Constitution. Also, the accused has no aim of causing public commotion or disrupting the law's established order.

Balwant Singh Vs State Of Punjab (1962)

The right to free speech and expression is a sine qua non in a democratic country, although reasonable limitations, as specified in A. 19(2), are required in the sake of sovereignty, safety, integrity, cordial relations with foreign governments, public order, morality, or contempt of court. As a result, every law enacted to maintain public order is in violation of the Constitution.

As a result, the Supreme Court ruled that Sections 124A and 505 of the IPC are constitutionally permissible and in accordance with A.19(1)(a) read with A.19(2) of the Constitution. Also, the accused has no aim of causing public commotion or disrupting the law's established order.

The Supreme Court ruled that unless there is public disruption, simple sloganeering is not punishable under Section 124A.

Is Anti-Sedition Legislation Effective?
The Supreme Court's ruling was founded on the rationale that maintaining public order and averting threats to the integrity and stability of the country require some form of restriction on the "Freedom of Speech and Expression." This is correct our Fundamental Rights can't be unlimited; they must be confined within reasonable limitations to guarantee that they really do not cause harm to others.

However, criticism of the state is part of the very core of democracy, as the courts have also emphasised. The problem emerges when the Anti-sedition law is applied unfairly to the populace and used as a tool to stifle free expression in order to force the populace to silently obey whatever the government orders.

  • Section 124A in The Indian Penal Code
  • Case Laws on Sedition
  • Codification of the Criminal law- Treason, Sedition and Allied Offences
  • Byjus- Sedition Law In Law
  • Great Trial of 1922
  • Section 124A in The Indian Penal Code
  • Niharendu Dutt Majumdar And Ors. vs Emperor on 10 July, 1939
  • Tara Singh Gopi Chand vs The State on 28 November, 1950
  • Article 19 in The Constitution Of India 1949
  • Ram Nandan vs State on 16 May, 1958

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