“The Prince among political sections of the Indian Penal Code, designed to suppress the liberty of the citizens.”
– Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhi
Law of sedition as found in Section 124A of Indian Penal Code, 1860 is highly vexed, much debated and mostly misused in India. Most of the people, be it human right activists, lawyers, intellectuals and even common men are well divided over one of the most controversial and contentious penal provisions found in the statute. Some opine that this penal provision is highly draconian, unnecessary and having a chilling effect on the freedom of speech & expression as enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. They say that sedition law is a relic and legacy of British era which was originally enacted to safeguard the crown and the British Government from any potential uprising, insurrection and revolt by the masses and also to suppress political dissent. They further say that this provision is inherently ambiguous, vague and open to misinterpretation. However there is no denying the fact that it is a potent weapon in the hands of the government to suppress & subdue the opposite parties, human right activists and those who criticize the policies and acts of the government at helm. They further say that this penal provision is having immense and enormous possibility of misuse by the government. Additionally, it is argued that the law is inconsistent with international human rights standards, such as those mandated under International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The UN Human Rights Committee has also called for a repeal of such laws that impose criminal penalties for defamation and laws that unduly restrict freedom of expression, including sedition laws.
On the other hand, those who support the retention of this penal provision argue that it is absolutely necessary to protect the integrity and sovereignty of the nation and also to secure the interests of its citizens. They further argue that the sedition law is extremely important to curb the terrorism and naxalite movements in India. They argue that during a diverse and populous country like India, keeping law and order is critical, and the law lets in in curbing speech and movements that incite violence. They contend that sedition criminal suggestions are essential to protect national interests and to preserve public order.
Though the sedition law sometimes helps the government to suppress anti-India activities, fight the menace of terrorism and naxalite movement, the question remaining unanswered is whether such a law should be there in the statute book even after 75 years of independence in India, taking into consideration the fact that this law is a relic and legacy of colonial era, which was enacted by the British only to suppress the freedom movement and voices of nationalist leaders. Not only this, in order to fight the terrorism, naxal movement and secessionist movement, already there exist laws like Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and National Security Act in vogue. The sedition law has been rampantly misused by the government in the past and present. Moreover, the conviction rate is extremely low in India in respect to the offence of sedition.
However the freedom to speech and expression as enshrined under section 19(1)(a) is not absolute and reasonable restriction can be imposed on freedom of speech and expression on the grounds mentioned in Article 19(2). The question of whether it should be abrogated is a complex one and opinions on this matter vary. The national security interests must be balanced with the protection of fundamental rights of the citizens.
In the above backdrop, let us first understand what does ‘sedition’ exactly mean?
Black’s law dictionary defines sedition as an insurrectionary movement tending towards treason but wanting an overt act. It is an attempt made by meeting or speeches or by publication to disturb the tranquility of the state.
Section 124A of India Penal Code, 1860 (as amended upto date) as it stands today defines sedition as under:-
“Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred to contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India shall be punished with transportation for life or any shorter term to which fine may be added or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.
Explanation 1:- The expression “disaffection” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.
Explanation 2:- Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.
Explanation 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 offence of sedition in India is a cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence and upon conviction entails punishment extending to imprisonment for life.
The British as early as in the 17th century enacted the Sedition Act, 1661, as an Act of British parliament. Its title says it is an Act for safety and preservation of his majesties person and government against treasonable and seditious practices and attempts.
The British Government repealed the Sedition Act, 1661, by Criminal Law Act, 1967. In the year 2009, the British Government finally abrogated the sedition law in Britain.
When Macaulay’s Draft Penal Code of 1837-39 was made, the penal provision of sedition found place in Section 113 of the said draft. However, when the Indian Penal Code, 1870 was finally enacted, the provision of sedition was omitted. However, Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 was not placed on the statute book until 1860 by the Act of XXVII of 1870. A considerable amount of discussion was made at the time when amendment was introduced by Sir Stephen James. When the amendment was being made, the reason was given that it was not placed in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 earlier inadvertently and by mistake. The sedition law, as we all know, was imposed on Indians by the British only to safeguard the crown and the British Government from any potential uprising, insurrection and revolt by the masses and also to suppress political dissent.
In the words of Tushar Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, the sedition law was enacted to protect the Monarchy and in India, to protect the Raj.
SOME LANDMARK / CELEBRATED CASES IN WHICH THE SEDITION LAW HAS BEEN EXPLAINED AND INTERPRETED BY VARIOUS COURTS IN INDIA:
- Queen-Empress v. Jogendra Chunder Bose (Bangobasi case – 1892): This was perhaps the first case under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code which was tried by jury before Sir Comer Petheram, CJ. The Ld. Chief justice explained the sedition law to the jury as under:
“Disaffection means a feeling contrary to affection, in other words, dislike or hatred. Disapprobation means simply disapproval. It is quite possible to disapprove of a men’s sentiments or action and yet to like him. The meaning of the two words is so distinct that I feel it hardly necessary to tell you that the contention of Mr. Jackson cannot be sustained. If a person uses either spoken or written words calculated to create in the minds of the persons to whom they are addressed a disposition not to obey the lawful authority of the Government, or to subvert or resist that authority, if and when occasion should arise, and if he does so with the intention of creating such a disposition in his bearers or readers, he will be guilty of the offence of attempting to excite disaffection within the meaning of the section though no disturbance is brought about by his words or any feeling of disaffection, in fact, produced by them. It is sufficient for the purposes of the section that the words used are calculated to excite feelings of ill will against the Government and to hold it up to the hatred and contempt of the people, and that they were used with the intention to create such feeling.”
- Queen-Empress v. Bal Gangadhar Tilak – (1897 & 1908) : This was the most celebrated case on sedition during British regime, which was also tried by jury. Justice Strachey explained the sedition law to the jury as under:
“The offence as defined by the first clause is exciting or attempting to excite feelings of disaffection to the Government. What are “feelings of disaffection”? I agree with Sir Comer Petheram in the Bangobasi case that disaffection means simply the absence of affection. It means hatred, enmity dislike, hostility, contempt and every from of ill-will to the Government. “Disloyalty is perhaps the best general term, comprehending every possible form of bad feeling to the Government. That is what the law means by the disaffection which a man must not excite or attempt to excite; he must not make or try to make others feel enmity of any kind towards the Government. You will observe that the amount or intensity of the disaffection is absolutely immaterial except perhaps in dealing with the question of punishment: if a man excites or attempts to excite feelings of disaffection, great or small, he is guilty under the section. In the next place, it is absolutely immaterial whether any feelings of disaffection have been excited or not by the publication in question. It is true that there is before you a charge against each prisoner that he has actually excited feelings of disaffection to the Government. If you are satisfied that he has done so, you will, of course, find him guilty. But if you should hold that charge is not made out, and that no one is proved to have been excited to entertain feelings of disaffection to the Government by reading these articles, still that alone would not justify you in acquitting the prisoners. For each of them is charged not only with exciting feelings of disaffection, but also with attempting to excite such feelings. You will observe that section places on absolutely the same footing the successful exciting of feelings of disaffection and the unsuccessful attempt to excite them, so that, if you find that either of the prisoners has tried to excite such feeling in others, you must convict him even if there is nothing to show that he succeeded. Again, it is important that you should fully realise another point. The offence consists in exciting or attempting to excite in others certain bad feeling towards the Government. It is not the exciting or attempting to excite mutiny or rebellion, or any sort of actual disturbance, great or small. Whether any disturbance or outbreak was caused by there articles, is absolutely immaterial. If the accused intended by the articles to excite rebellion or disturbance, his act would doubtless fall within Section 124A, and would probably fall within other sections of the Penal Code. But even if he neither excited nor intended to excite any rebellion or outbreak or forcible resistance to the authority of the Government, still if he tried to excite feelings of enmity to the Government, that is sufficient to make him guilty under the section. I am aware that some distinguished persons have thought that there can be no offence against the section unless the accused either counsels or suggests rebellion or forcible resistance to the Government. In my opinion, that view is absolutely opposed to the express words of the section itself, which as plainly as possible makes the exciting or attempting to excite certain feelings, and not the inducing or attempting to induce to any course of action such as rebellion or forcible resistance, the test of guilt. I can only account for such a view by attributing it to a complete misreading of the explanation attached to the section, and to a misapplication of the explanation beyond its true scope.”
- Kedarnath Singh v. State of Bihar – (1962): This is the first case in independent India, in which constitutional validity of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 was challenged on the ground that it violates the fundamental right as enshrined in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, which was heard by five judges bench of Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.
Their Lordships lucidly dwelt upon the interplay between Section 124A of the Penal Code and Article 19 of the Constitution of India and while upholding the constitutional validity of Section 124A declared the law in the following terms:
“24. In this case, we are directly concerned with the question how for the offence, as defined in Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, is consistent with the fundamental right guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitutional, which is in these terms:
“19. (1) All citizens shall have the right.
- to freedom of speech and expression…”
This guaranteed right is subject to the right of the legislature to impose reasonable restrictions, the ambit of which is indicated by clause (2), which, in its amended form, reads as follows:
“(2) Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign State, public order decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.”
It has not been questioned before us that the fundamental right guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the freedom of speech and expression is not an absolute right. It is common ground that the right is subject to such reasonable restrictions as would come within the purview of clause (2), which comprises (a) security of the State, (b) friendly relations with foreign States, (c) public order, (d) decency or morality, etc., etc. With reference to the constitutionality of Section 124A or Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code, as to how far they are consistent with the requirements of clause (2) of Article 19 with particular reference to security of the State and public order, the section, it must be noted, penalizes any spoke or written words or signs or visible representations, etc., which have the effect of bringing, or which attempt to bring into hatred or contempt or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law. Now, the expression “the Government established by law” has to be distinguished from the person’s for the time being engaged in carrying on the administration. “Government established by law” is the visible symbol of the State. The very existence of the State will be in jeopardy if the Government established by law is subverted. Hence the continued existence of the Government established by law is an essential condition of the stability of the State. That is why ‘sedition’, as the offence in Section 124A has been characterized, comes under Chapter VI relating to offences against the State. Hence any acts within the meaning of Section 124A which have the effect of subverting the Government by bringing that Government into contempt or hatred, or creating disaffection against it, would be within the penal statute because the feeling of disloyalty to the Government established by law or enmity to it imports the idea of tendency to public disorder by the use of actual violence or incitement to violence. In other words, any written or spoken words, etc., which have implicit in them the idea of subverting Government by violent means, which are compendiously included in the term ‘revolution’, have been made penal by the section in question. But the section has taken care to indicate clearly that strong words used to express disapprobation of the measures of Government with a view to their improvement or alteration by lawful means would not come within the section. Similarly, comments, however strongly worded, expressing disapprobation of actions of the Government, without exciting those feelings which generate the inclination to cause public disorder by acts of violence, would not be penal. In other words, disloyalty to Government established by law is not the same thing as commenting in strong terms upon the measures or acts of Government, or its agencies, so as to ameliorate the condition of the people or to secure the cancellation or alteration of those acts or measures by lawful means, that is to say, without exciting those feelings of enmity and disloyalty which imply excitement to public disorder or the use of violence.”
Thus, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in Kedarnath (Supra) held that seditious speech and expression may be punished only if the speech is an incitement to ‘violence’ or ‘public disorder’. The Supreme Court further held that in order to commit an offence under Section 124A of the IPC,
(a) the acts complained of must be intended to have the “effect of subverting the Government” by violent means, and
(b) the acts complained of must be intended, or have a tendency, to create disorder or disturbance of public peace and must incite violence.
- Nazir Khan vs. State of Delhi – (2003) : The Supreme Court in this matter explained “sedition” in the following words:
“34. Section 124A deals with “Sedition”. Sedition is a crime against society nearly allied to that of treason, and it frequently precedes treason by a short interval. ….The object of sedition generally are to induce discontent and insurrection, and stir up opposition to the Government, and bring the administrative of justice into contempt; and the very tendency of sedition is to incite the people to insurrection and rebellion….”
- Sanskar Marathe vs. State of Maharashtra – (2015) : The division bench of Hon’ble Bombay High Court after noticing law laid down by the Supreme Court on sedition law held as under:
“15… A citizen has a right to say or write whatever he likes about the Government or its measures, by way of criticism or comments, so long as he does not incite people to violence against the Government established by law or with the intention of creating public disorder…
16…. But for that reason, the freedom of speech and expression available to the third respondent to express his indignation against corruption in the political system in strong terms or visual representations could not be encroached upon when there is no allegation of incitement to violence or the tendency or the intention to create public disorder.”
- Shreya Singhal vs. Union of India – (2015):
The Hon’ble Supreme Court declared the Section 66A as unconstitutional and upheld the scope of Right to Freedom of expression of speech as enshrined under article 19(1)(a) of the constitution of India. In this famous judgment, the Hon’ble Supreme Court drew a clear distinction between “advocacy” and “incitement” as under:
“Thus, words and speech can be criminalized and punished only in situations where it is being used to incite mobs or crowds to violent action. Mere words and phrases by themselves, no matter how distasteful, do not amount to a criminal offence, unless this condition is met.”
CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY DEBATES ON SEDITION AND FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND EXPRESSION
The original draft Article 13 dealt with freedom of speech and expression which contained “sedition” as one of the restrictions upon freedom of speech and expression. The draft Article 13 read as under:
“(1) Subject to the other provisions of this article, all citizens shall have the right-
a) To freedom of speech and expression
(2) Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) of this article shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent this State from making any law, relating to libel, slander, defamation, sedition or any other matter which offends against the decency or morality or undermines the authority or foundation of the State.”
The said draft Article was extensively debated by the members of Constituent Assembly and majority of them were opposed to the retention of “sedition” while finally framing the Constitution of India. Thus, the sedition as one of the restrictions on freedom of speech and expression was omitted from Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India.
LAW COMMISSION OF INDIA ON SEDITION
As per Law Commission of India’s report for the year 2018, the Constituent Assembly at the time of framing the Constitution, had opposed inclusion of sedition as a restriction on freedom of speech and expression under the then Article 13. The provision was seen as a shadow of colonial times and was not required in free India. However, the offence remained under Section 124A of the IPC.
The report concludes, “In a democracy, singing from the same songbook is not a benchmark of patriotism. People should be at liberty to show their affection towards their country in their own way. For doing the same, one might indulge in constructive criticism or debates, pointing out the loopholes in the policy of the Government. Expressions used in such thoughts might be harsh and unpleasant to some, but that does not render the actions to be branded seditious”.
It specifically opined that Section 124A should be invoked only in cases where the intention behind any act is to disrupt public order or to overthrow the government with violence and illegal means.
However the Law Commission in its 279th report had proposed that the provision be retained with certain amendments. The Law panel chief proposed that the Sedition law is must to retain India’s integrity.
RAMPANT MISUSE OF SEDITION LAW AS CONTAINED IN SECTION 124A OF THE INDIAN PENAL CODE, 1860 (AS AMENDED) BY THE BRITISH AND SUCCESSIVE GOVERNMENTS IN INDIA
The sedition law of India is a relic of colonial era and even after 75 years of independence, this draconian law which was enacted by the British in order to suppress the freedom movement and the voices of leaders, like Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Annie Besant, Jogendra Chandra Bose etc., still finds place in our penal code.
The British slapped sedition charges against Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Jogendra Chandra Bose and many other nationalists.
Even after independence, the successive governments, both at the centre and in the states, have rampantly slapped the sedition charges against many persons, social and human right activists, authors, journalists, lawyers etc.
Aseem Trivedi, a UP based award winning cartoonist was slapped with sedition charges for his alleged “offensive” cartoons. Binayak Sen, a famous pediatrician for allegedly supporting naxalites was also slapped with sedition charges and sent to jail. Arundhati Roy, a Booker Prize winner, a famous author and human right activist was also slapped with sedition charges for her alleged anti-India speech at a seminar in Delhi in the year 2010.
Though, the misuse of sedition law was made in every regime, however, in the last 6-7 years, India has witnessed a massive surge in sedition cases, mostly on flimsy grounds.
In recent years, many activists, students, farmers, lawyers and many other persons who opposes the policies of the government and raises the questions to the government, have been sent to jail on sedition charges.
In 2015, Hardik Bharatbhai Patel, a Patel leader was booked for sedition. He was later granted conditional bail by the High Court of Gujarat.
In 2016, Kanhaiya Kumar, then a JNU student leader was sent to jail on sedition charges alongwith two other students namely Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya for their alleged “anti-India” slogans. He was later released after three weeks in Jail, when the videos purporting to show his activity were found to be fake.
Sharjeel Imam, a student leader and pass-out from JNU & IIT was sent to jail on sedition charges in 2019 for his alleged “inflammatory” speech during anti-CAA protest Sharjeet Imam is still in jail.
Disha Ravi, an environmental activist was also sent to jail on sedition charges for sharing a ‘toolkit’ for a global online campaign supporting the farmers’ protest.
Likewise, activists Safoora Zargar, Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal, Ishrat Jahan, Asif Iqbal Tanha, Gulfisha Khatoon, Meeran Haider were also sent to jail on sedition charges, for their alleged “inflammatory” remarks at anti-CAA meetings and alleged ‘premeditated conspiracy’ to create riots in Delhi in February 2020.
Further, activists Swamy Gautam Navlakha, Sudha Bharadwaj, Hany Babu, Anand Teltumbde, Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, late Father Stan, Arun Ferreira, Rona Wilson, Mahesh Raut and Sudhir Dhawale were also sent to jail for their speeches at an Elgaar Parishad meeting ahead of the violence in Bhima Koregaon on the occasion of the bicentennial anniversary of the 1818 battle.
EVER RISING CASES OF SEDITION IN INDIA AND VERY LOW RATE OF CONVICTION.
As per National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report in the year 2014, 47 cases of sedition was registered in India which rose to 93 in the year 2019 (whopping rise by 163%), whereas the conviction rate in sedition cases dropped to 3.3% in 2019 from 33.3% in 2016. The drop in the conviction rate is significant and is a measurement of the inefficacy of the law apart from the conclusion that the probability of the law being misused is high as on date and no significant purpose is being solved by the law.
ANTI – SEDITION MOVEMENT WORLDWIDE:
Many countries worldwide have either eased or completely removed their sedition laws. Different countries have either eased the law or fully removed their sedition laws. Countries, including the U.K., Ireland, Australia, Canada, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda, have already held sedition law as undemocratic, undesirable and gratuitous.
The main reason for the abolition of sedition has been the protection of freedom of speech or the existing laws with respect to freedom of speech. The implicit abuse of sedition laws to further political dockets is also a factor.
United Kingdom: The sedition law became obsolete in the UK in the 1960s and was eventually repealed in the year 2009.
USA: Sections 2381 to 2385 of the US Code deal with treason, sedition and subversive activities advocating overthrow of government. However, the law is rarely enforced to uphold the freedom of speech. Some sedition laws have been repealed or made a dead letter. The courts give a wide protection to free speech. The Sedition Act, 1918, the U.S. Supreme Court held that teaching an ideal, however unpopular or unreasonable it might be, does not amount to sedition.
Singapore: Singapore repealed its sedition law 83 years after it was first introduced.The Home Ministry said that key aspects of the Sedition Act have not been relevant in modern times, and that the law was hardly used now.Further other laws have been legislated over the years to deal with issues covered by the Act in a more targeted and calibrated manner.
New Zealand: The Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Bill in 2007 came into effect from January 1, 2008, and accordingly the act of ‘sedition’ was made redundant.
Australia: The first comprehensive legislation in Australia that contained sedition offence was the Crime Act 1920. It was reviewed twice – in 1984 and 1991. In 2005, amendments were made in Schedule 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (No 2) 2005. The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) reviewed whether the use of the term “sedition” was appropriate to define the offences mentioned under the 2005 amendment. In 2010, a recommendation of the ALRC was implemented in the National Security Amendment Act 2010, thereby replacing the word ‘sedition’ with ‘urging violence offences’.
Scotland: Section 51 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing Act, 2010 abolished the common law offences of sedition.
Indonesia: In the year 2007, sedition law was declared as “unconstitutional”.
South Korea: The Republic of Korea abolished sedition laws during democratic and legal reforms in the year 1988.
Ghana: On July 27, 2001, Ghana’s parliament unanimously repealed the Criminal Libel and Seditious Laws, which had been used to incarcerate a number of journalists in the past after the Criminal Code (Repeal of the Criminal and Seditious Laws Amendment Bill) Act 2001 was passed.
RECENT CHALLENGE TO THE CONSTITUTIONALITY OF SECTION 124A OF THE INDIAN PENAL CODE, 1860 RELATING TO THE OFFENCE OF SEDITION AND STAY OF THE OPERATION OF SEDITION LAW BY THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA RECENTLY TILL GOVERNMENT OF INDIA REVIEWS / RE-EXAMINES THE PROVISION OF SEDITION
Alarmed by the rampant misuse of sedition law, various persons in the year 2021, filed several Writ Petitions before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, thereby challenging the Constitutionality of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 relating to the offence of sedition with a prayer to have a re-look at the Kedar Nath Singh case (Supra), in which the Supreme Court had uphold the constitutional validity of Section 124A.
The Union of India, during the hearing of those writ petitions (S.G. Vombatkere vs. Union of India) with connected writ petitions), in their affidavit submitted that the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India has been cognizant of various views expressed on the subject and has also periodically, in various forums, expressed his clear and unequivocal views in favour of protection of civil liberties, respect for human rights and giving meaning to the constitutionally cherished freedoms by the people of the country. He has repeatedly said that one of India’s strengths is the diverse thought streams that beautifully flourish in our country.
The Union of India further submitted that the government of India, being fully cognizant of various views being expressed on the subject of sedition and also having considered the concern of citizens on this issue, the civil liberties and human rights of citizens of India, while being committed to maintain and protect the sovereignty and integrity of this great nation, has decided to re-examine and re-consider the provision of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which admittedly can only be done before the Competent Forum. With these submissions, the Union of India requested the Hon’ble Supreme Court not to invest time in examining the validity of Section 124A once again and await the exercise of reconsideration which is to be undertaken by the Government of India before an appropriate forum.
In view of the clear stand taken by the Union of India, the Hon’ble Supreme Court passed the following orders in the interest of justice:
“(b) We hope and expect that the State and Central Governments will restrain from registering any FIR, continuing any investigation or taking any coercive measures by invoking Section 124A of IPC while the aforesaid provision of law is under consideration.
(c) If any fresh case is registered under Section 124A of IPC, the affected parties are at liberty to approach the concerned courts for appropriate relief. The courts are requested to examine the reliefs sought, taking into account the present order passed as well as the clear stand taken by the Union of India.
(d) All pending trials, appeals and proceedings with respect to the charge framed under Section 124A of IPC be kept in abeyance. Adjudication with respect to other Sections, if any, could proceed if the courts are of the opinion that no prejudice would be caused to the accused.
(e) In addition to the above, the Union of India shall be at liberty to issue the Directive as proposed and placed before us, to the State Governments / Union Territories to prevent any misuse of Section 124A of IPC.
(f) The above directions may continue till further orders are passed.”
Thus, now in India, till the Union of India re-examines and re-considers the sedition law in appropriate forum and any further order passed by Hon’ble Supreme Court in the above writ petitions, the operation of sedition law has been put on hold, much to the relief of many persons accused under sedition law.
Though the sedition law sometimes helps the government to suppress anti-India activities, fight the menace of terrorism and naxalite movement, the question arises as to whether such a draconian law should be there in the statute book even after 75 years of independence in India, taking into consideration the fact that this law is a relic and legacy of colonial era, which was enacted by the British only to suppress the freedom movement and voices of nationalist leaders. Not only this, in order to fight the terrorism, naxal movement and secessionist movement, there are already laws like Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and National Security Act in vogue.
Apart from the above, the sedition law has been rampantly misused by the government in the past and present. Moreover, the conviction rate is extremely low in India in respect to the offence of sedition.
India took a break from the sedition law, a relic of colonial era and the Central Government decided to repeal the Sedition law on dated 11.08.2023, which was a step taken in the right direction. However under section 150 of new bill Bhartiya Nyay Sanhita Bill, 2023, the provision has been retained with some changes. It does not specifically use the word Sedition, but describes the offence as “endangering sovereignty, unity and integrity of India”.
Taking into consideration, the national security interest, in my opinion, the decision regarding the abrogation/ retention/ amendment of Law should be made only after thorough deliberation, discussions, efficacy of the law while taking into account the legal considerations and the evolving societal context.
- LR (1892) 19 Cal. 35
- Indian law reports, 1897 volm. XXII, original criminal, Bombay series
- Air 1962 SC 955
- 2003 ALL MR (Cri) 2651 (S.C)
- 2015 SCC online Bom. 587
- AIR 2015 SC 1523
- Article dated 03.05.2022 “Explained India’s sedition law, its usages, and the opinion it” published in www.thehindu.com.
- National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reports at
- Writ Petition (Civil) No. 682/2021 with connected Writ Petitions (SC).
-  LR (1892) 19 Cal. 35
-  Indian law reports, 1897 volm. XXII, original criminal, Bombay series
-  Air 1962 SC 955
-  2003 ALL MR (Cri) 2651 (S.C)
-  2015 SCC online Bom. 587
-  AIR 2015 SC 1523
-  Article dated 03.05.2022 “Explained India’s sedition law, its usages, and the opinion it” published in www.thehindu.com
 Hetal Chavda, Autonomy Is As Autonomy Does – Law of Sedition in India, 2, Imperial Journal of interdisciplinary Research, 33 (2016)
 British Law Commission Report No. 149 on Criminal Libel, September, 1985. Available at:
http://www.bailii.org/ew/other/EWLC/1985/149.pdf (last visited on July 14, 2023)
 354 U.S. 298
 New Zealand Law Commission Report available at: http://www.lawcom.govt.nz/sites/default/files/pressreleases/2006/10/Publication_128_343_SEDITION%20CONSULTATION%20DRAFT.pdf, para. 18. (last visited on July 14, 2023)
 https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ssi/2011/178/schedule/made (last visited on July 14, 2023)