Sedition means any kind of influence or sudden provocation to rebel/agitate against the head of state. In simple words, sedition means a crime of generating or designing to take up arms against the lawful governance to cause destruction in society and throw out the regime. For eg. Any person may commit sedition by holding a gathering/assembly to incite people to express displeasure and restlessness towards the government or an official settled power.
Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code was introduced by the British Raj in 1870. Within the 150 years since then, this draconian colonial relic, that even the British have currently abolished, has been solely misused; more so, after Independence. The frequency of its widespread use as a weapon of political repression against various people, as well as teenagers in recent times, is staggering. Charge sheets were filed only in a little proportion of cases and less than a few resulted in conviction upheld by the higher courts. this could suffice as a reason for doing away with Sec 124A.
Section 124A of Indian Penal code states that “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”.
The constitutionality of sedition was challenged within the Supreme Court in KedarNath Vs State of Bihar. The Court upheld the law on the concept that this power was required by the state to defend itself. However, it had further a significant caveat that "a person can be prosecuted for sedition provided that his acts caused incitement to violence or intention or tendency to make public disorder or cause disturbance of public peace". The court held that "a citizen incorporates a right to say or write whatever he likes concerning the govt, or its measures, by means of criticism or comment, so long as he doesn't incite individuals to violence against the govt established by law or to create public disorder". In Sep 2016, the Supreme Court had reiterated these necessary safeguards and held that all authorities ought to follow them.
The constitutional validity of Section 124A should be read in the context of Article 19 of the Constitution of India. Freedom of expression is a constitutional right that has got to get primacy over laws of sedition. sedition is a crime only if there's incitement to violence or public disorder. Sedition wasn’t bearable to the creators of the constitution as it stood as a limitation to Article19(1)(a). The article provides freedom of speech and expression that is also limited to constraints under Article19(2) of the Constitution. Article19(2) imposes cutbacks on restricted grounds of enjoyment of rights of sovereignty and honour of India, soundness of the state, congenial relations with foreign states, public organizations, decorum, or ethics about contempt of court, character assassination etc. Section124A is cognizable and non-bailable. After independence, Section124A came up for deliberation for the first time in the case of Romesh Thappar v. the State of Madras. The Supreme Court opined that unless freedom of speech and expression penance “The security of or be inclined to topple the state”, any law imposing limitations upon the same it will not fall under Article 19(2).
Thus, it's clear that advocating any new cause however unpopular or uncomfortable it should be to the powers that be, it should be permissible. Majoritarianism cannot be the law. We should additionally bear in mind that in India we follow the first past the post principle. Even Governments that come in with a huge majority do not get 50 per cent of the votes. Therefore, though they are entitled to govern or be called the majority, it cannot be said that they represent all the people’s voice.
The law of sedition is more usually abused and misused. The people that criticize those in power are arrested by police officers on the asking of those in power and though someone could get bail the next day from the court, he has suffered the disgrace of being sent to jail. The question whether or not we should have a relook at it, will help in driving that how the provision of section 124A is being misused or not.
The view was taken by several scholars that ‘sedition is bringing or making an attempt to bring into hatred or contempt or exciting or making an attempt to excite disaffection towards government by words either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation or otherwise’ is thus faulty since it doesn't essentially represent ‘sedition’. we've got a birth right to express against something wrong done to us. If we tend to snatch this right of an individual or as a nation, the entire criminal justice system would crumble down.
The foremost case of India where Section124A was applied in Jogendra Chandra Bose’s Case. Jogendra Bose had condemned the “age of Consent Bill” and the defeatist effects of British Imperial Rule in India. The court observed the difference that in England Section 124A will be imposed when any action is done in the sequel of a seditious emotion, but on the other hand in India, only those acts would fall under 124A that is done to express opposition and reluctance and are a threat to British Rule. Disaffection and Disapprobation are two core elemental pillars of Sec 124A. The Section chastises disaffection and not disapprobation. In the case of Jogendra Chandra Bose, the court did not announce any verdict and Bose was set free. The interpretation that, any actions that suggested revolt or forced reluctance to the government should be given to this section is not valid. Another landmark case is of Queen Emperor Vs Bal Gangadhar Tilak where the accused had published an essay featuring the Maratha warrior Shivaji overthrowing the British reign. The newspaper was “Kesari”. The court ruled that the section places absolutely on the similar foundation of the victorious exciting of feelings of disloyalty, disaffection and the abortive endeavour to excite them. This judgment shaped the 1989 amendment to Section124A IPC, explaining defined disaffection to insert disloyalty and feelings of enmity. In Niharendu Dutt Majumdar Vs King-Emperor where court expressed its contradicting opinion from the literal elucidation given to Section124A in Bal Gangadhar’s case. The court opined that the offence of sedition was associated with the disorganization of public order and prevention of organization until and unless the speech leads to mutiny or disorganization of public order or a reasonable prediction or probability of same, it cannot be termed as seditious. Thus, the nucleus of the defence argument was certified.
The core elements of sedition “disaffection & disapprobation”, are very fuzzy and are open to endless interpretations, hence the elements lack definite meaning. Sedition Law is been exploited as an instrument to abuse and victimize political dissent. In my view, the law needs a lot of improvement and should include aspects that are only against national security and should not include those aspects where it acts as a ticking bomb against people who are to express their opinion.
(4th year Law Student at UPES, Dehradun.)