[Answered] What is section 124A of IPC? Do you think it should be scrapped from India’s law book?

Demand of the question
Introduction. Write about 124A of IPC.
Body. Write issues and use of section 124A.
Conclusion. Way forward.

Section 124A of Indian Penal Code was drafted by Thomas Macaulay, and was introduced in the 1870s, originally to deal with “increasing Wahabi activities between 1863 and 1870 that posed a challenge to the colonial government”. Mahatma Gandhi, who was charged with sedition, famously said that the law was “designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen”.

Section 124A of the IPC defines sedition and says:

  • 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, the government established by law; or
  • Whoever by the above means excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law, has committed the offence of sedition.
  • According to the law, disaffection includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity. However, disapprobation of the measures or administrative action of the government to obtain their alteration by lawful means is not an offence.

Issue with section 124A of IPC:

  1. It is often under criticism because Centre and the States have invoked this section against activists, detractors, writers and even cartoonist seeking to silence political dissent by accusing dissenters of promoting disaffection.
  2. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 35 cases of sedition were reported in 2016. Many of these cases did not involve violence or incitement to violence. Figures reveal that in the two years preceding the JNU case, there were a total of 77 sedition cases.
  3. 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’.
  4. The reach of Section 124-A has extended even to faraway places. An entire village in Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu had sedition cases slapped against it for resisting a nuclear power project. Adivasis of Jharkhand, resisting displacement, topped the list of those slapped with sedition in 2014.

Why it should be abolished?

  1. 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 have the section alive.
  2. 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.
  3. Against freedom of speech- Section 124A has been invoked against activists, detractors, writers and even cartoonists on several occasion to suppress their freedom of speech and expression. Article 19 (1) of Indian constitution provide freedom of speech as a fundamental right. Section 124A is against Article 19 (1).
  4. Improper definition- As pointed by the Law Commission of India, is that the definition of sedition does not take into consideration disaffection towards (a) the Constitution, (b) the legislatures, and (c) administration of justice, all of which would be as disastrous to the security of the State.

Need of continuation of Section 124A

  1. Misuse of freedom of speech- Freedomof 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. The main reason behind the continuation of Sedition act after independence was to prevent the misuse of free speech (reasonable restriction) that would be aimed at inciting hatred and violence.
  2. 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.

Way Forward

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. Dissent and criticism are essential ingredients of a robust public debate on policy issues as part of a vibrant democracy. Therefore, every restriction on free speech and expression must be carefully scrutinised to avoid unwarranted restrictions.

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