SEDITION – A TEMPORARY PAUSE OR COMPLETE ANNULMENT
This article will give detailed information about the current controversial legal framework of Section 124A Of the Indian Penal Code governing the Sedition Law in India.
So what is Sedition Exactly?
As per the Indian Penal Code, 1860 the sedition is defined under the section 124A 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 the 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.”
In parlance, sedition is a punishable offense against a person who by words or actions tries to excite or attempts to bring Hatred or Contempt against the Government. Sedition is a non-bailable offense and anyone charged with it is barred from a government job or the individual’s passport is seized by the government entities
With this, we got a legal understanding of what is the sedition law now let’s look into the history of how the Sedition law was implied in India.
History of the Sedition Law: –
The law on sedition was drafted by the British historian- politician Thomas Babington Macaulay in 1837. Primarily in the 19th Century and the 20th Century, the colonial British Government used Sedition charges to suppress the writings and speeches of the Indian Nationalists and Freedom Fighters who voiced their thoughts against the wrongdoings indulged by the Government. Bal Gangadhar Tilak was the first person to be charged with sedition in the year 1897 for the article he wrote in his paper “KESARI”. In the year 1908 Bal Gangadhar Tilak was sentenced for a period of 6 years against sedition charges and was later on exiled to Burma for writing in favor of the Bengal Revolutionaries. Tilak Sahab was later again charged for sedition in the year 1916 and eventually he was tried in another law.
Mahatma Gandhi was trialed against the sedition charges for the articles he wrote in the “YOUNG INDIA” in the year 1922 and was sentenced to six years of imprisonment for taking part in the anti-government protest held in Bombay province.
Mahatma Gandhi quoted in his submissions while being tried against the sedition charges,
“Affection (towards a government) cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. If one has no affection for a person or system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote, or incite to violence.”
In the year 1930, Jawaharlal Nehru was also charged with sedition for his remarks while addressing the farmers of Allahabad and was sentenced to two years of imprisonment. Later in the year 1934, he was again charged with sedition for the speeches he made in Bengal and was again sentenced for two years.
Origin of Sedition law in India is connected to the Wahabis Movement of the 19th century. This was an Islamic revivalist movement and was led by Syed Ahmed Barelvi. Since 1830, the movement was active but in the wake of the 1857 revolt, it turned into armed resistance, a Jihad against the British. The British termed Wahabis as the rebels against the government and as a result, the government held military operations against him.
Sardar Patel was also charged with sedition for the speech he gave at Congress Jubilee Celebrations held in Bombay in the year 1935.
In the year 1891, the first sedition case of India was held in the doors of court when the law amended that sex with a girl who is above the age of 12 years will be amounted to rape. The change was opposed by a newspaper named “BANGOBASI” stating that it was a direct attack against the Indian traditions by the British government though charges were made against the Paper but were eventually left untried after they submitted an apology.
What is the impact of the Sedition Law?
Currently, the Sedition law has come into many controversies with its adverse impacts on the violation of Freedom of Speech & Expression guaranteed by the Constitution of India. Though there are many charges filed under the sedition law, the conviction rate has fallen to a very low rate to be precise the current conviction rate is 3% only.
The Supreme Court, in its recent order, on the 150-year-old sedition law, decided to put a hold on any conviction against the sedition charges until the further review of the law. The sedition law in the current scenario is being abused in such a manner that it is not only violating the frameworks of the constitution but also setting a tone of monopoly opinion-oriented society rather than the democratic and sovereign state society where one can raise questions against the actions performed by the Government. While curtailing and suppressing the voices raised by people with the use of Sedition law it’s only creating an environment wherein people are considered as the herd of sheep and not allowing the future generation to avail their rights.
Chief Justice N.V. Ramana’s reflections on the sedition law must be taken into account when referring to the recent order where he cited –
“The penal law was used by the British Government against Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak was to suppress freedom movement and it’s still being abused is a serious threat to individuals and institutions”
Today the term “Sedition” is often translated as desh-droh or opposition to the nation which has led to a conflation of the terms “seditious” and “anti-national” but, there is a key difference between anti-national sentiment and actionable sedition which directs to incitement to violence.
As quoted by Justice A. P. Shah concerning the case of JNU Students –
“The law is clear on the distinction between strong criticism of the government and the incitement of violence, with only the latter being related to sedition. Thus, regardless of whether the JNU students’ slogans were anti-national, hateful, or an expression of contempt and disdain against the government, as long as they did not incite violence, it does not get covered under sedition.”
“The strength of a nation is not formed by the uniformity of opinion of its citizens or a public showcase of patriotism. The true strength of a nation is revealed when it does not feel threatened by its citizens expressing revolutionary views; when there is a free and open press that can criticize the government; and when citizens do not resort to violence against their fellow citizens, merely for expressing a contrary view. That is when we will have achieved liberty of speech. And that is when we will be truly free.”
Sedition law across the globe: –
The modern constitutional democracies such as the United Kingdom, the US, and New Zealand have severed anti-sedition laws from the law books. The countries like Singapore and Australia have also repealed the law of Sedition. Across the globe, the view about Sedition is that mere criticism or questions raised by the citizens of the state are not leading any sort of feeling of incitement or war against the Government as it’s the right of the citizen to know the Government’s actions and for their general understanding about the same.
THE LANDMARK JUDGMENTS ON SEDITION IN INDIA
1. Kedar Nath Singh v/s State of Bihar
Under this case, the Supreme Court has defined the limits of the law of sedition.
The petitioner, a leader of the Forward Communist Party in Bihar, was convicted of sedition for the speeches that he made in the year 1953. The five-judge bench of the Supreme Court upheld the validity of section 124A and stated that “It (Sec 124A) could only be used in the situation when there was an actual incitement to violence or disruption of public order, and that mere criticism of the government did not amount to sedition.”
2. Balwant Singh and Anr. v/s State of Punjab
After the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the accused had raised the slogan “Khalistan Zindabad” outside a cinema hall. It was held that two individuals casually raising slogans could not be said to be exciting disaffection towards the Government. Section 124A would not apply to the circumstances of this case.
3. Romesh Thapar v/s State of Madras
In this case, the petitioner stated before the Supreme Court that the said order of banning his paper ‘Cross Roads’ by the Madras State has contravened his Fundamental Right of Freedom of Speech and Expression conferred on him by Article 19(1) of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court ruled that section 19(2) where the limitation was imposed only in cases where a public safety problem is involved. In cases, where no such problem could arise, it cannot be held to be constitutional and valid to any extent. The Supreme Court quashed Madras State’s order and allowed the petitioner’s application under Article 32 of the Constitution.
SEDITION IN OTHER LAWS:-
A. Indian Penal Code, 1860 (Section 124A)
B. The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (Section 95)
C. The Seditious Meetings Act, 1911 &
D. The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (Section 2(o) (iii)).
STATISTICS OF VARIOUS SEDITION CASES DURING THE PAST FEW YEARS:
- There was a raise in the Sedition cases due to the movements of protest by those against the Citizenship Amendment Act,2019(CAA) and the Dalit teenage girl rape case at Hathras in the UP.
- In the year 2010 to 2014 in Bihar, the majority of Sedition cases were related to Maoism and Counterfeit currency.
- There are over 10,938 Indians accused of Sedition over the last decade.
- In the years 2015 and 2016 consecutively, the leaders of the Patidar and the Jat Communities were held against Sedition.
- The Pathalgadi Movement held in the Jharkhand led to hundreds of Tribal People being charged with sedition in the year 2018.
Sedition is a severe offense in violation of Article 19. So there is a need that sedition laws should have expressly contained words which satisfied the restrictions of Article 19(2). The purpose of restricting speech under the Sedition Act is the protection of National Security. Sedition laws should be interpreted and applied according to the guidelines given by the Supreme Court.
Some dark areas lie between actual law and its implementation and thus the laws need to amend those dark areas. It is a need for such law that those activities, which are promoting violence and public disorder, should be stopped.
Written By –
MS. AATHIRA NAIR