• Sedition is defined as an offence committed when "any person brings or seeks to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government constituted by law in India" through spoken or written words, signs, visible representations, or other means.
  • Disloyalty and all hostile emotions are included in disaffection. Nonetheless, statements that do not incite or seek to incite hatred, contempt, or disaffection shall not be considered violations under this section.

  • It aids in defending the elected government against attempts to overturn it via force and illicit means.


  • Sedition laws were created in 17th-century England when lawmakers held the view that only good thoughts of the government could persist because negative opinions were detrimental to the government and monarchy. 
  • Thomas Macaulay, a British historian, and politician, first drafted the statute in 1837; nevertheless, it was mysteriously left out when the Indian Criminal Code (IPC) was adopted in 1860.
  • In 1870, Section 124A was added to the statute as a result of Sir James Stephen's Currently, Section 124A of the Indian Criminal Code makes sedition a crime (IPC).
  • Sedition was employed by colonial authorities to imprison anybody who opposed British policy.
  • Under British control, prominent members of the liberation movement including Lokmanya Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhagat Singh, etc., were imprisoned for their "seditious" speeches, publications, and actions.

Sedition laws in India-

  • The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (Section 124A),
  • The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (Section 95),
  • The Seditious Meetings Act, of 1911 and,
  • The Unlawful activities (prevention) act  (Section 2(0) (iii))  .

Sedition as a cognizable offense-

  • During the term of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1973, sedition was deemed a cognizable offence in India for the first time ever, allowing for a warrantless arrest.
  • The clause only applies, according to the Supreme Court of India's 1962 interpretation, if there is an "incitation to violence" or "overthrow of a democratically elected government through violent means," for example.

Issues with sedition law

  • Colonial-era relic:

    • Colonial authorities used sedition to put anyone who disagreed with British policy in prison.
    • Leaders of the freedom movement like Lokmanya Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhagat Singh, and others were imprisoned for "seditious" remarks, publications, and actions while India was ruled by the British.
    • Because of this, sedition legislation brings to mind the imprints of colonial times.
  • The Constituent Assembly's Stance:

    • The Constituent Assembly decided against including sedition in the Constitution. Members were worried that it would limit their ability to express themselves freely.
    • They contended that the constitutionally protected freedom to protest may be curtailed by the use of the sedition laws.
  • Disregarding the Supreme Court's decision:

    • The Supreme Court restricted the concept of sedition to "acts involving the intention or inclination to produce unrest, disturbance of law and order, or instigation to violence" in its 1962 decision in Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar.
    • So, it is against the Supreme Court's directive to bring sedition charges against scholars, attorneys, social activists, and students.
  • Democratic Values repressed:

    • India is increasingly called an elected autocracy due to callousness and the deliberate application of the sedition statute.
  • Inconsistent with ICCPR:

    • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was ratified by India (ICCPR).
    • The arbitrary imposition of charges and the misuse of Section 124A's anti-sedition provisions are incompatible with the ICCPR.
  • Violation of fundamental rights:

    • In order to suppress political opposition, the Centre and the States have used this section against activists, critics, writers, and even cartoonists by claiming that they violated their fundamental right to free speech and expression under Article 19 of the constitution by encouraging disaffection.
    • 35 instances of sedition were reported in 2016, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. Most of these incidents did not involve any acts of violence or calls for violence.

Advantages of sedition law-

  • National security: It gives the government the ability to deal with both rebel organisations and potential security problems.
  • Stability of state: Also, it offers sufficient defence against acts of anti-nationalism or the violent removal of the legitimately elected government. 
  • Sensitive social fabric: The law discourages organizations that want to sow division or hostility in the nation. 
  • Non-state sectors: It aids in discouraging anyone from trying to overthrow the elected government or engage in any terrorist activity.
  • Preventive: Any person wishing to engage in anti-state activities is discouraged by the act's provisions. 
  • left-wing extremist: It is also a useful weapon in India's Maoist-affected region for fighting an insurgency.
  • Curbs sensational movements: Also, it works well against those that want India's independence. ULFA in Assam, for instance, or the Khalistan organizations. 
  • Protects public sentiments: It makes it possible for the government to retaliate against those who incite unrest and incite public outrage. 

Law Commission recommendations-

  • The Law Commission had already rejected the suggestion of removing the clause in a report from 1968.
  • The panel requested an expansion of the section's purview later in 1971.
  • In addition to just "government," it asked for including the Constitution, the legislative branch, and the judiciary in the legal framework. because it is inappropriate to accept opposition to any of these institutions.
  • The commission simply desired to change the large difference between the two recommended prison terms (either 3 years of life). It demanded that the maximum penalty be set at seven years of severe imprisonment with a fine.
  • The Law Commission of India published a consultation document in August 2018 arguing that Section 124A of the Indian Criminal Code, which addresses sedition, needs to be reviewed or repealed. The Law Commission has advised using 124A only to punish actions taken with the intent to impede public order or overthrow the government through force and illegitimate means.

Judicial pronouncements-

  • Tara Singh vs. State of Punjab (1950): in this case, the court held that the section was unconstitutional as it was against the freedom of speech and expression.
  • Ram Nandan vs. State of U.P. (1958): the Allahabad high court held that section 124A imposed restriction on the freedom of speech which was not in the interest of people.
  • Kedarnath vs. state of Bihar (1962): the supreme court observed that the sedition law must be narrowly interpreted.
  • Balwan Singh and another vs. State of Punjab(1995): the supreme court held that the casual raising of slogans once or twice by two individuals cannot be termed as sedition.
  • Shreya Singhal vs. union of india(2015): the supreme court clearly drew distinction between “advocacy” and “incitement”, in which only incitement can be punished.

Recent developments of Section 124-A

  • When numerous sedition FIRs were filed against a political figurehead and six leading journalists in February 2021, the Supreme Court (SC) spared them from imprisonment  on the grounds that they had allegedly tweeted and shared unconfirmed news.
  • The Court placed emphasis on defining the parameters of sedition in June 2021 while defending two Telugu (language) news stations from coercive action by the Andhra Pradesh government.
  • A petition asking the SC to review the Sedition Law was submitted in July 2021.
  • "A statute criminalizing expression based on unconstitutionally vague definitions of 'disaffection towards Government' etc. is an unreasonable restriction on the fundamental right to free expression guaranteed under Article 19 (1)(a) and causes constitutionally impermissible 'Chilling Effect' on speech," the court ruled.
  • The Central Government argued today that the law should not be suspended while it is being reviewed, despite having stated its intention to do so on May 9, 2022.
  • Also, the Central Government recommended that for the time being, only police officers with the rank of Superintendent or higher might decide whether to pursue a Sedition charge.
  • The government further stated that cases brought under the Sedition Act may also include terrorism-related allegations. These ongoing matters are before the court, not the government or police.

Way forward: 

  • distinction in crime: sedition cases arising from speech must be distinguished from those arising from seditious activities.
  • Burden of proof: Those who assert that they were violated by the allegedly seditious act or statement must provide evidence to support their claims.
  • Leniency: Due to the low conviction rates and lengthy pending cases, it should at the very least be declared a bailable offence. It should not be used as a tool to intimidate dissenters.  
  • Police awareness: The police officer needs to understand that sedition today implies more than just inciting opposition to the government.  
  • Application with caution: Because it might be misused, use should be kept to legitimate situations and done so carefully. 
  • Non- cognizable: So that there is at least a judicial check on politically motivated allegations, the violation should be made unrecognisable. 
  • Multi-stakeholder committee: creating a committee with representatives from the government and well-known civil society organisations to decide cases. 

Bailable exception: All speech-related offences should be made bailable offences.

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