Sedition Law in India

Section 124-A in the Indian Penal Code is named ‘Sedition’. As defined in this Section, Sedition is:

“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.”

In other words, anyone who brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government by words spoken or written or by signs or by visible representation or otherwise is guilty of the offence of sedition.

However, this definition is so exhaustive that it does not leave out of its purview any possible mode of self expression, simply by using the words “or otherwise”.

The punishment for the offence of sedition is life imprisonment but lesser punishment can also be awarded.

Three explanations are added to the above definition:

  1. The expression “disaffection” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.
  2. Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.
  3. Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.

The latter two seek to clarify that expressing disapprobation of the measures of the Government or administrative action is not an offence. But any attempt to excite contempt, hatred or disaffection will definitely make such permissible disapprobation also liable to be punished. It is the ordinary police constable who will in the first person decide whether ANYTHING will cause disaffection, contempt etc. towards the government.

The law was originally drafted by Thomas Macaulay.

It was not a part of IPC in the 1860s and was even dropped from the law. Sec 124A was adopted by the council of Governor General of India which met in Simla on August 2, 1870.

Many Indian freedom fighters, including Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak, were charged with sedition during freedom struggle.

According to political scientist Neera Chandoke, “Sedition is a conversation stopper. You can’t talk about atrocities in Kashmir, happenings in tribal areas. Talking about the functioning of a government and the promises it backtracked on cannot be seditious anyway.”

 

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