Why in News?
The Government has sought more time to submit its written response to petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code dealing with the offense of sedition.
- In the year 2021, the CJI (Chief Justice of India) had questioned why a colonial law used against Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak continued to survive in the law book after 75 years of Independence.
- The Chief Justice had said sedition or Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code was prone to misuse by the government.
History of sedition
In the original act of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) of 1860, sedition was not present as an offence. It was the amendment of the year 1870 that introduced sedition to the Indian Penal Code. Sedition was a gag on the voices of freedom and independence in India. It was a weapon of law against Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru, and many others.
They followed the section of sedition word for word.
Read also:- Section 124(A) of Indian Penal Code
The government convicted many people for invoking ill-will against them, even in cases where there was no violence.
However, the scenario changed when the Federal Court intervened.
(the highest judicial authority in British India) in the case of Niharendu Dutt Majumdar v King Emperor (1942) interpreted sedition as an offence only when it incites public disorder or violence.
After a while, in the case of King Emperor v Sadashiv Narayan Bhalerao (1947), the Privy Council in Britain took up the issue of the interpretation of sedition. The Privy Council rejected the Federal Court’s interpretation.
The Federal Court held that the application of sedition does not require incitement to public disorder or violence. This interpretation was followed in practice until the reign of the Britishers in India.
After Independence, the Constituent Assembly dropped sedition from the Constitution of India. This was due to KM Munshi. He proposed to remove sedition as a reasonable restriction on freedom of speech and expression as well.
In 1951, the first amendment to the Constitution limited the freedom of speech and expression by adding “public order”. As a reasonable restriction in Article 19(2).
The Indira Gandhi government later amended the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, to make Section 124A a cognizable offense, thereby enabling arrests to be made without a warrant.
What is Sedition Law?
- Lawmakers in 17th century England enacted sedition laws based on the belief that only favorable opinions of the government should prevail, as they considered unfavorable opinions detrimental to the government and monarchy.
- Thomas Macaulay, the British historian-politician, originally drafted the law in 1837.
- However, when the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was enacted in 1860, it was inexplicably omitted.
- An amendment introduced by Sir James Stephen in 1870 inserted Section 124A when there was a perceived need for a specific section to address the offence.
- Today the Sedition is a crime under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Read also:- ” Sher-e-Punjab”
Sedition Law Today:
Section 124A IPC
- It defines sedition as an offence committed when “any person 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”.
- Disaffection includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity. However, comments without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, will not constitute an offence under this section.
Punishment for the Offence of Sedition:
- The punishment under Section 124A ranges from imprisonment up to three years to a life term, with the possibility of adding a fine.
- A person charged under this law faces a bar from obtaining a government job.
- They have to live without their passport and must produce themselves in the court at all times as and when required.
Section 124A of the IPC has its utility in combating anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements.
However, dissent and criticism of the government are essential ingredients of robust public debate in a vibrant democracy.
We should not construe/interpret sedition as applicable in those cases.
The higher judiciary should use its supervisory powers to sensitize the magistracy and police to the constitutional provisions protecting free speech.
We should narrow down the definition of sedition to include only the issues pertaining to the territorial integrity of India as well as the sovereignty of the country.
Read also:- Indian Penal code notes for PCS-J
Sedition Law in India, Sedition Law in India, Sedition Law in India