Criminal Law

Is it necessary to abolish Sedition Law in India?

By Adv. Apurva Chodankar

Introduction

Sedition law has always been in the limelight for the arrest of campaigners and reporters on controversial topics. The country that follows or has adopted democracy is very powerful and strong, as its citizens have complete power to speak for and against the government. But sometimes these privileges can be misused. There are different opinions, views, theories formed for complete removal of the law of sedition, or to support the law of sedition with strong application of the same. Though the sedition law was introduced during the British era, they tried to silence the comments that were faced by their government and extended punishment to a great extent, the police could take any person in custody without a warrant. `

Historical Development

Sedition law was introduced in the 17th century in England with a view to protecting the Crown and the state. The British government in India was afraid the Muslim priest will declare war and attack the Indian sub-continent against the then government. The use of the sedition section by the British raj was done to stop the freedom movement and struggle. Indian sedition law has an interesting past.

IPC was brought into effect in 1860 but it had no specific section as such. The sedition section was originally placed in draft code by Thomas Babington Macaulay in 1837 but it was excluded from the code. Later James Fitzjames Stephen added the sedition section in 1870. The sedition law was used by Britishers to stop the freedom movement in India carried on by the freedom fighters as they disapproved of the policy-making organization in India.

The law was enacted under the British Raj in the year 1860 in the Indian Penal Code, to stop crimes against the state. The word sedition was removed from the draft constitution in 1948 after a lot of discussion and deliberation in the constituent assembly. All credits to K .M Munshi as he moved an amendment to strike down the word sedition from the draft constitution that was incorporated in article 13(2). He was of the view that the true spirit in a democratic system is that the government should be criticized. It was his hard work, determination, and efforts that the word sedition was removed from the constitution.

In 1949 the word sedition completely vanished from the constitution however on November 26th, 1949 Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian constitution gave the full right to its citizens freedom of speech and expression.

The law of sedition was again brought into force in its first amendment by the government headed by our then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Though he was of the view that we need to get rid of this sedition law but his government had no clear vision as to bringing back

the sedition law into force. Also, two new words were added to the sedition law i.e “friendly relation with a foreign state” and “reasonable restriction”,

For the first time in history, sedition law was made a “cognizable offense” during the term of our then prime minister Indira Gandhi.

Existing Position

The sessions courts of Mumbai on 3rd February 2020 granted bail of Urvashi Chudawala, a student that was booked for sedition charges by the police. She raised slogans supporting one Sharjeel Iman, another student from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) who was also booked for sedition charges. These students were making an anti-CAA speech in connection to the northeast states of India.

In recent times there has been an increasing number of cases that are filed against reporters and politicians. As per the database, there is an increase of sedition cases filed between 2014 and 2020 by 28% as compared to the year 2010-2014.

In February 2016 one Kanaya Kumar was charged with sedition, he was the president of the JNU students union. He was arrested along with two others. His contention was the statements made by him were asking for liberty from destitution and social evil.

In 2021, a college student named Disha Ravi from Banglore was unlawfully taken from her home to Delhi by the police on charges of sedition. She is a climate change activist. The police had come with a toolkit that was used in a farmer’s protest. However, she got bail after a week as there was a large protest on social media in her support.

Essentials of Section 124A of Indian Penal Code

Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code defines sedition. The essential elements of sedition are:

  • Spoken words, written or gestures and anything that can been seen by eyes
  • detest and disloyalty against the government
  • any violence or public disorganization that will occur immediately
  • bringing up taglines against government
  • any person who encourages others to become violent or disturb the peace an disobey the law
  • Any written work that will disturb or encourage violence.

Punishment for sedition: non-bailable offense and non-compoundable offense Imprisonment for life or up to 3 years.

Landmark Cases

1. Queen – Empress v. Bal Gangadhar Tilak [1916]

This case is a well-known case of sedition in Indian history. Our revolutionaries fought against British colonial rule. Bal Gangadhara Tilak was a loyal and committed fighter of India, he was charged with sedition on two occasions.

  1. 1897 for encouraging other people to come forward to participate in the revolution movement that resulted in the death of two British officers.
  2. 1901 for writing in his Marathi newspaper Kesari.

2. Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar [1962]

This case is a milestone of independent India as the courts tried the very first sedition case, the legality of the provisions was questioned. The supreme court ascertained between betrayal to the government and talking about the government that would encourage any violence in public disorganization. The supreme court in this case narrowed the scope of its explanation to those matters that had the object of encouraging public dis-organization or any violence that would lead to acts of sedition. A member of Kedar Nath Singh’s party in Bihar made certain anti-national comments, these comments were very disturbing and attacked the ruling government. The Supreme court restricted the explanation only to matters that had a purpose to encourage public dis-organization or violence.

3. Dr. Binayak Sen v. State of Chhattisgarh [2011]

In this case, Dr. Binayak Sen was charged with sedition for supporting the Maoist insurgency. He was helping terrorists that were active in the regions at that time. With the help of his patient, he was found to pass notes with Maoist prisoners. Dr. Sen is a pediatrician and the professor was also a human rights activist. In the session court, Raipur sentenced him to life imprisonment. It may also be noted that the Salwa juduma group was supported by the Government of Chhattisgarh to check the revolt in the village where tribes were settled.

4. Aseem Trivedi v. State of Maharashtra [2012]

Aseem Trivedi was arrested in 2010 on charges of sedition. He is a cartoonist and activist, also well known for his anti-corruption campaign. A complaint was filed against him by

Amit Katarang, legal advisor for a Mumbai-based NGO. Amit criticized Trivedi’s work/exhibits. This case questioned the freedom of speech and expression in India. Youth gets arrested for criticizing corrupt practices publicly. Some found his work bad, disrespectful.

5. Shreya Singhal v. Union of India [2015]

This is a very important case. Two girls were arrested from Mumbai on grounds of sedition in 2015. They had posted some posts on Facebook about the death of political party leader Bal Thackery. The entire city was closed on his death. Shreya Singhal, a student of law filed a petition to remove section 66A of the IT act. The court, however, struck down the section, further, the supreme court in its judgment stated difference to be made in action that speaks in favor and persons that are encouraged to commit crimes.

Conclusion

In recent times there have been a number of arrests by the police of reporters, youth, and citizens who have tried to speak the truth and some political leaders found it to be against the government. Sedition law is misused by the government to suppress the citizen and in a way, they are trying to take away our freedom of speech. For a democratic country, there is a need to have a healthy discussion and to pinpoint the pros and cons of any ruling government, this does not mean that any person who makes any particular statement is trying to create hate or confusion in minds of others because the law is very clear and it already makes a distinction on the one who encourages violence and one that criticizes the government functioning. Most politicians interpret the law as per their convenience, this has to be stopped. Specific guidelines are to be framed by the courts, as the judges and the advocates are in a better position to distinguish as to what may constitute sedition. For some, any talk or statement may be sedition while to others it may just be a plan statement. Situations in which circumstances are made also need to be considered. In modern times with the changing ideas, one has to update and upgrade his mental capability and accept certain changes. The government has to stop their interference as they take the law in their hand, as a result, innocent people have to face the consequences and at times the situation goes out of hand.

Categories: Criminal Law, Opinion

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