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A DEMOCRACY OF SEDITIONS

The genesis of Sedition as a concept in Indian law is colonial in nature. It was introduced by the British, through a criminal amendment in 1870[1]. The purpose behind the introduction of this provision was to control opinions, mostly propagated by freedom fighters, which had the potential to instigate feelings of contempt against the East India Company and their officials ruling the subcontinent. It was very widely used to muzzle nationalistic stirs that people of power, such as Indian editors during the time, or popular political individuals, had the potential to begin. However, its initial purpose has long gone, India has rid itself of the British and no calls of “Inquilab Zindabad” can usually be heard. In modern independent India, Sedition as a concept under section 124A of the IPC[2] has now been interpreted to serve as a punishment for those who strive to bring hatred, or contempt, or even attempt to inspire people to stand against their elected government. Its application has been called into question numerous times over the course of the years, and there have been widespread protests against it, given the rising number of cases which are being considered as frivolous.[3]

Post-independence, Kedarnath Singh v. State of Bihar[4] served as the one of the most primary sources of defining the fate of the legislation relating to Sedition. This particular judgement, in 1962, upheld the provision, claiming that the definition of Sedition is not arbitrary, and provides a holistic coverage of acts that may be seen as sowing seeds against the elected government. Proponents of the judgement, and of the law of Sedition itself claim that the elected government, as part of the working political machinery, should not be put through any sort of hindrance which may be fatal to the entire structure itself. Any flaw in the structure, leading to its fatal downfall will reduce the society to a state of chaos and lawlessness. Therefore, to never be in a position to even be close to a similar downfall, the provision of Sedition stands in the Indian subcontinent. The Kedarnath Case, in its judgement, accepted the fact that the law of Sedition does in fact put restrictions on the freedoms of individuals, but also added that the restrictions so put are reasonable in nature.

The definition of the broad concept of Sedition has been clarified and discussed at length in the Apex Court as well as various High Courts. In 1950 itself, the very year India became a republic, the Punjab and Haryana High Court declared the law of Sedition as unconstitutional.[5] Nine years later in 1959, the Allahabad High Court followed suit.[6] After their overturn in 1962 however, judgements that have been delivered have mostly been in the favour of the repeal of the provision, or increasing the severity of its criteria to be fulfilled. This could be justifiably explained by the changing social structure of India. The advent of more and more Indian newspapers and an indigenously operated media network, the growth of internet and with it, of technology, and the rise in the level of education among the masses created a conducive situation wherein opinions and criticisms were being shared and accepted and pondered over.

As mentioned before, frivolity of cases has increased manifold. According to the statistics provided by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), cases of Sedition that were made out increased from the period of 2016-2020, percentage of arrests increasing by as much as a staggering 160%, however, successful convictions stayed around the 3% mark.[7] This is nothing but concerning when it comes to the liberty of individuals, and has led a huge amount of people to discredit the legislation, and term it draconian. All those advocating against the prevalence of Sedition as a concept in Indian legislation also argue that there is no need for it since there are adequate substitutions for it available, such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) of 1967, Section 153 A[8] and Section 153 B[9] of the IPC, among others. They claim that these legislations cover the provisions and fulfil the purpose and intent that Sedition wants to achieve, and therefore, Sedition can and should be declared unconstitutional as it is doing more harm than good. There also exists a Law Commission Report which suggests the declaration of Sedition as unconstitutional.

However, it should also be considered that even if one particular, or even multiple legislations, cover a single area of law, another legislation in the same direction reduces the scope of an individual finding a loophole to avoid punishment, who has violated the freedom that the legislations intended to protect. Therefore, Section 124A, coupled with UAPA and Section 153 A & B could be argued to further the scope and reduce the chances of a person to evade responsibility when it comes to trying to go against the government or any other symbol of national or political importance.

Currently, the law of Sedition is put on a hold, so to say. In a legal document released by the Court in the case of S.G. Vombatkere v. Union of India[10]as of 2021, the Supreme Court has stayed prosecution of cases related to Section 124A, and has urged police officers not to file cases related to it. Presently arrested individuals, detained due to activities related to Sedition were also entitled to petition for their bails. All of this shall remain in place until the Union Government does not re-examine the concept of Sedition itself, invoking its legislative supremacy. It should be noted that the Union Government, however, has not given itself a deadline regarding the task at hand. The absence of a promise of time, especially for a legislation of this delicate importance, has the potential to have repercussions on the people who have had a direct impact due to the nature of this legislation. However, one must maintain faith in the organs of the government, and hope for the will of the people to be represented in the outcome of this entire event.


-- [1] Act no. XXVII, 1870, No. 27, 1870 (India). [2] The Indian Penal Code, 1860, § 124A, No. 45, Acts of Parliament, 1860 (India). [3] Shastri Ramachandaran, Section 124A: The Case Against the Much-misused Sedition Law, OUTLOOK (Nov. 5, 3:21 PM), outlookindia.com/website/story/opinion-section-124a-the-case-against-the-much-misused-sedition-law/347936. [4] Kedarnath Singh v. State of Bihar, AIR 1962 SC 955. [5] Tara Singh Gopi Chand v. The State, AIR 1951 Punj 27 (Z6). [6] Ram Nandan v. State of UP, AIR 1959 All 101. [7] Rahul Tripathi, Arrests under sedition charges rise but conviction falls to 3%, ECONOMIC TIMES (Nov. 5, 2022, 3:00 PM), https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/arrests-under-sedition-charges-rise-but-conviction-falls-to-3/articleshow/81028501.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst. [8] The Indian Penal Code, 1860, § 153 A, No. 45, Acts of Parliament, 1860 (India). [9] The Indian Penal Code, 1860, § 153 B, No. 45, Acts of Parliament, 1860 (India). [10] S.G. Vombatkere v. Union of India, 2021 : W.P 682.



This article is written by Pranav Mathur of Manipal University Jaipur.

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