What is Sedition Law?
Source: what is seditionThe Indian Penal Code was drafted by Thomas Macaulay and came into force in 1860. Thomas Macaulay has included the law on sedition however it was accidently not added to the code that time. In 1890, sedition was included as an offence under section 124A IPC through the Special Act XVII. This law was thereafter used extensively to curb dissent during the freedom struggle. Sedition as described in the provisions Section 124A is "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". The punishment during when the law was enacted during the Bristish Era was transportation “beyond the seas for the term of his or her natural life” and was later amended to life imprisonment in 1955. In order to weaken the National Movement for Independence, the Bristish Government charged prominent leaders such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Annie Besant, Shaukat and Mohammad Ali, Maulana Azad and Mahatma Gandhi under this law.
Sedition as it stands today in Section 124A of the IPC is a non-bailable offence. The person charged with sedition can be punished with three years of imprisonment along with a fine and is also not eligible for government jobs. Their passports are seized by the government.
While framing the Constitution, the Constituent Assembly debated including sedition as an exception to the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression but it was opposed by a lot of members and hence the word was not inlcuded in the document.
Challenges to Section 124A
Over the years there have been several legal challenges to Section 124A of IPC. In Romesh Thapar v State of Madras in the year 1950 the Supreme Court held that “criticism of the government exciting disaffection or bad feelings towards it, is not to be regarded as a justifying ground for restricting the freedom of expression and of the press, unless it is such as to undermine the security of or tend to overthrow the state.” Thereafter, the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Tara Singh Gopi Chand v. The State (1951), and the Allahabad High Court in Ram Nandan v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1959) ruled that Section 124A was colonial tool to suppress discontent in the country and weaken the national movement. They also declared the provision unconstitutional. However in Kedarnath Singh v State of Bihar (1962) the Supreme Court uphled the Constitutional Validity of Section 124A and overruled the earlier rulings. Along with this decision, the court issued seven “guidelines”, underlining when critical speech cannot be qualified as sedition. It highlighted that only speech that is likely to incite “public disorder” would qualify as sedition.
Over the years there has been rampant misuse of this law. Various petitions have been filed in the Supereme Court to do away with this colonial law. Now the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a fresh challenge against the provision after a batch of petitions were filed by journalists, Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha, Kanhaiya Lal Shukla and others. There would be a seven judge bench to decide if the ruling in th Kedarnath Singh v State of Bihar was correct. The Central Government had earlier defended the law and argued that “isolated incidents of misuse” do not necessitate removal of the provision itself but then later it told the apex court that it was reviewing the law.
The present ruling of the Supreme Court is important because after considering the petitions if the provision is struck down the earlier rulings would be upheld which were liberal on free speech. However, since the government is also reviewing the law, it can bring back the provision in a different form.
Recent Cases of Charges of Sedition
- Activists Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao, Hany Babu, Anand Teltumbde, Shoma Sen, Gautam Navlakha, Surendra Gadling, late Father Stan Swamy, Arun Ferreira, Rona Wilson, Mahesh Raut and Sudhir Dhawale, for speeches at an Elgaar Parishad meeting ahead of the violence in Bhima Koregaon on the occasion of the bicentennial anniversary of the 1818
Against environmental activist Disha Ravi, for sharing a ‘toolkit’ for a global online campaign supporting the farmers’ protest