|Demand of the question Introduction. Contextual introduction. Body. Discuss usefulness and misuse of sedition law. Conclusion. Way forward.|
Sedition is an offence incorporated into the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in 1870. Section 124A of the IPC defines says whoever by words either spoken or written attempts to bring into hatred or contempt or excites disaffection towards the government established by law, has committed the offence of sedition. The offence is punishable with imprisonment for life and is turned out to be a tool by politicians many times to prevent criticism against them jeopardising free speech and dissent.
Usefulness of Sedition law:
- Misuse of freedom of speech: Freedom of speech although is protected through Article 19 (1) but it is not unlimited. Sometimes speech is used as a tool to destabilise country polity and to promote enmity in the society. Thus sedition law is useful in preventing this misuse.
- Internal security: Maoist insurgency and rebel groups virtually run a parallel administration, it would be dangerous to abolish it. These groups openly advocate the overthrow of the state government by revolution. Thus keeping section 124A is important for Indian security.
- Combating anti-national elements: Section 124A of the IPC has its utility in combating anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements.
- Political stability: It protects the elected government from attempts to overthrow the government with violence and illegal means. The continued existence of the government established by law is an essential condition of the stability of the State.
Sedition Law as an oppressive mechanism: The Sedition cases have been increasing over the years as in 2014, there were 47 cases of sedition but that number has increased to 70 in 2018.
- Improper definition: As pointed out by the Law Commission of India, is that the definition of sedition does not take into consideration disaffection towards the Constitution, the legislatures, and administration of justice, all of which would be as disastrous to the security of the State.
- Against freedom of speech: Section 124A has been invoked against activists, detractors, writers and even cartoonists on several occasions to suppress their freedom of speech and expression. Article 19 (1) of Indian constitution provides freedom of speech as a fundamental right. Section 124A is against Article 19 (1).
- Prevent criticism: A foremost objection is a strong criticism against government policies and personalities, slogans and stinging depictions of an unresponsive or insensitive regime are all likely to be treated as ‘seditious’.
- Colonial tool: It was introduced by the British to suppress the freedom struggle and its existence at present is not justified. Britain itself abolished it 10 years ago, then why India still has the section alive.
- Inconsistent with international conventions: India ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and misuse of sedition law under Section 124A and the arbitrary slapping of charges are inconsistent with the ICCPR.
Supreme Court Judgements on Sedition:
- Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar, 1962: The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of Section 124-A (sedition). However, it said that every citizen has a right to say or write about the government by way of criticism or comment as long as it does not incite people to violence against the government established by law or with the intention of creating public disorder.
- P.Alavi vs State of Kerala, 1982: The Supreme Court held that sloganeering, criticising of Parliament or judicial setup does not amount to sedition.
- Balwant Singh v State of Punjab, 1995: The Supreme Court acquitted persons from charges of sedition for shouting slogans such as ‘Khalistan Zindabad’. The court held that mere raising of slogans by two individuals alone cannot be said to be aimed at exciting or attempt to excite hatred or disaffection by the government.
The Supreme Court has persistently held that for the offence of sedition to be satisfied, there has to be a causal relationship between speech and acts of violence, and mere speech, regardless of how subversive it is, does not amount to sedition. Every irresponsible exercise of the right to free speech and expression cannot be termed seditious. While it is essential to protect national integrity, it should not be misused as a tool to curb free speech.