Sedition- The British Indian Law


This article was written by Priyanka Pareek a student of College of Law and Governance Mody University

“Section 124-A is perhaps among the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizens. Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. If one has no affection for a person or system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote or incite to violence”.- Mahatma Gandhi

Sedition is an act of writing or uttering of words or doing of any act that in any way brings the government or the state into the hatred of people or any other action that creates a feeling of disaffection against the established government state. Sedition is a kind of defamation of the Government established by law, especially a kind of a libel. In England it is known a seditious libel. In India Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 encompasses the provisions related to sedition and the same has been made a punishable offence. It covers not only covers sedition that is in writing or by words spoken it covers all activities that amount to defamation of the Government and includes activities like inciting rebellion, promoting disloyalty against the sovereign or the Government, creating public disturbance all other practices that aim at arising hatred, disaffection, inducing discontent, stirring up opposition against the government.

Freedom of speech and Expression is fundamental right guaranteed to all the citizens by the Constitution of India under Article 19(1) (a). A fundamental right as the name suggest cannot be trampled upon by any legislation or by any of the arbitrary action of the state. The Constitution also confers state with the duty to ensure that the Fundamental rights of a person are encroached neither by the state nor by the functionaries of the state. Whether or not the law related to sedition is violates the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed to every citizen by the constitution of India has been a question since the time Constitution came into existence.

The right of freedom and expression is considered as an indispensable right for the preservation of democracy as in a democracy citizens are not only the active participants in the political affairs of the country but they are the very foundation of a democratic society. In a democratic society every citizen has a right to express his/her views, opinions and ideas as well the views opinions ideas of others. This expression can be in any form i.e. every citizen has a right to publish, communicate, circulate and distribute one’s ideas, views or opinions in any manner. It must be recognized that freedom of speech and expression is one of the most valuable rights guaranteed to the citizens by the Constitution and should be jealously guarded by the courts.[1] Every citizen of the country has a right to have his own thoughts, have his own opinions on any matter and also a right to voice all opinions and thoughts and each citizen of this country even has a right to criticize the Government.

However, no right can be an absolute right and a person cannot be altogether free from restraints as a complete absence of restrictions would lead to disorder and anarchy. Right to freedom of spec and expression also has certain restrictions attached to it which are given in Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India and various grounds have been inserted to limit the right to freedom of speech and expression.

The law of sedition was inserted in the Indian Penal Code after 10 years of its enforcement and the sole purpose of adding this law in the statute was to suppress the Indian voice and thus this law was drafted so stringently that it did not leave any scope for the Indians to raise any voice against the British Government. Still there was a string aggression among our freedom fighters and time and again they did not only gave a voice to their opinions against the arbitrary polices of the British Empire but freely opposed the ruling cohorts. If not for this we would still have been under the drudgery of the British colonial rule.

It is very saddening that even after six decades of Independence people of this country cannot express their views, opinions, thoughts or ideas even when it is their fundamental right to do so there has been various instances where this freedom has been totally curtailed on the grounds of sedition. In 2010, Renowned writer Arundhati Roy was charged with sedition for advocating the independence of Kashmir region. In 2011, Dr. Binayak Sen was charged of sedition by the Chhattisgarh Government on the grounds that he supported the outlawed Naxalites. Just a year after that in 2012 political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was put behind bars and was charged of sedition as his cartoons were held to be “offensive”. And recently JNU Student leader Kanhaiyya Kumar was put behind bars on the grounds of sedition.

The Framers of the Indian Constitution not only imbibed freedom from every aspect of life in a free country they also imposed a duty on the state to make sure that there is no infringement of this freedom. One of such very important freedoms is the freedom of speech and expression which by the rampant abuse of the law of sedition is being curtailed repeatedly. Unfortunately lawful criticism is not tolerated in this country where such criticism is not only necessary to keep a healthy check on the abuse of power but for the very growth of India as a nation it is very important to ensure that the citizens are a vibrant part of the democratic society. It is thus a dire need of this democratic society to repeal a law that does not give the citizens a right to express themselves as if the people who are rulers of a democratic society are not allowed to voice their opinions then there cannot exist any bigger doom for a country who claims to be the biggest democracy in the world.

[1] Shivani Lohiya, Law of Sedition ( New Delhi: Universal Law Publishing Co. Pvt., 2014)

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