Sedition is defined as "the illegal act of revolting against an established authority, usually in the form of treason or defamation of a government," according to the law. To put it another way, you've committed sedition if you're scheming or plotting to overthrow by violent force, injure in any way, or, more precisely, assassinate any government authority figure. Sedition encompasses not only an individual's actions, but also any written words or writings that instigate, advocate, or promote the overthrow of a government.
Section 124A of Indian Penal Code, 1860 deals with sedition. The act states, “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 law in [India], 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.”
HISTORY OF SEDITION LAWS
After deliberations in the Constituent Assembly, the term "sedition" was removed from the Constitution in 1948. KM Munshi proposed a change to the draught Constitution that would remove the word "sedition" as a basis for restricting constitutional freedom of speech and expression. When the Constitution was established on November 26, 1949, the word "sedition" was removed from the document, and Article 19(1)(a) guaranteed unrestricted freedom of speech and expression. Section 124A, on the other hand, remained in the IPC.
In 1951, Jawaharlal Nehru introduced the first amendment to the Constitution, which limited freedom under Article 19(1)(a) and empowered the state to impose "reasonable restrictions" on the right to free speech.
For the first time in India's history, the Indira Gandhi government declared Section 124A a criminal offence. Sedition was made a cognizable offence in the new Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, which came into effect in 1974 and replaced the colonial-era 1898 Code of Criminal Procedure, allowing the police to conduct arrests without a warrant.
FLAWS IN SEDITION LAW
According to data published by the National Crime Records Bureau, the number of sedition cases has increased from 47 in 2014 to 93 in 2019, a huge 160 percent increase. Despite the rise in the number of sedition cases, the conversion rate from case to conviction is still only 3.3 percent. This means that the relevant authorities, such as the police and state officials, have been abusing the sedition statute, which eventually serves as a tool to instil fear or dread among the nation's population while also silencing any criticism or condemnation of the government's system.
There are numerous diverse interpretations due to its inadequate definition and understanding, and various authorities have taken advantage of it. This issue was recently brought to light when Justice D. Y. Chandrachud stated, "Everything cannot be seditious." It is past time for us to clarify what constitutes sedition," the court said, stopping the Andhra Pradesh government from pursuing any further action against the two Telgu news outlets charged under section 124A of the Indian Penal Code.
"Expression of views that are dissenting and different from the perspective of the government cannot be considered as seditious," Justice D.Y Chandrachud said in a recent key case in which a PIL was filed against Farooq Abdullah, the former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
In response to a petition filed by retired Army General S.G Vombatkere, a three-judge panel led by Chief Justice of India N.V Ramana issued a notice to the central government to pay close attention to section 124A IPC. The Chief Justice of India also emphasised the distinction between a significant increase in the number of cases filed and actual convictions. He voiced his compassion for the unfortunate persons who have suffered as a result of the authorities' gross misapplication of the law. "Using sedition is like giving a saw to a carpenter to cut a piece of wood, and he uses it to cut the entire forest itself," CJI added.
THREAT TO FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY
The foundation of liberty is personal autonomy. The most crucial liberty in democratic states is freedom of speech and expression. A vibrant democracy and civic society cannot thrive without free speech and expression. These rights, however, are not absolute and are subject to reasonable limitations. In India, for example, Article 19(1)(a) guarantees freedom of speech and expression, but it is always supplemented by Article 19(2), which lays out the grounds for reasonable limitations.
The sedition statute should only be used in extreme cases, but the government has unfortunately used it to sway public opinion. The section's prohibition is unjust since it restricts citizens the right to constructive criticism of the government. The section's prohibition is unjust since it restricts citizens the right to constructive criticism of the government.
The legislative, executive, and judicial are the three pillars of a democratic government, with the press serving as the fourth. It is equally important in the functioning of the government in a healthy democracy. Such incidents, in which journalists are censored, social activists are threatened with losing their right to freely express their opinions, etc., point to a dangerous future for public opinion and free speech and expression in a country like India, as well as a reduction in government accountability.
The rise in the number of incidents of authorities and government misusing power is cause for concern, especially in a democratic country like India, where personal liberty, freedom of speech and expression, and the absence of authorities exercising arbitrary powers are among the most important features. For a democratic nation to function smoothly and efficiently, citizens must be fully engaged in sharing their thoughts, presenting their demands, and expressing discontent with government policies that they believe are ineffective or need to be reconsidered.
The urgency of the hour is for the judiciary to step in and take quick and proactive action to get this harsh law reconsidered. People who have been wrongfully accused of crimes should receive prompt justice and compensation.
This article is written by Tanishka Bajaj of Vivekananda Institute Of Professional Studies.