The act of sedition is when usage of words or actions that can encourage masses to act against a government or highest authority is done. However, it totally depends upon the government how it decides the extent of word usage or act done to criminalise the same. At one edge the presence of section 124A of IPC can be supported for the purpose of ensuring security, peace and sovereignty. But at another end it can become a tool for the supressing nature governments to put down the right to freedom and expression of masses. Thus from the second end comes the concern of deciding constitutional status of section 124A IPC i.e., of sedition laws.
The law of sedition was originally drafted in 1837 by Thomas Macaulay, the British historian- politician, but was inexplicably omitted when the IPC was enacted in 1860. Section 124A was inserted in 1870 by an amendment introduced by Sir James Stephen when it felt the need for a specific section to deal with the offence. It was one of the many draconian laws enacted to stifle any voices of dissent at that time and thus it can be stated that it was basically, evolved to tighten the tongues of those who were trying to speak up for what’s wrong. And its function shows up something same sometimes even till now when the nation has become a democratic country whose constitution promises citizens the right to upheld their speech and expression. And there are many cases that put support to the statement. There are many cases under which Section 124 A of IPC have been quashed like that of in Ram Nandan v. State of U.P where, petitioner who while fighting for the cause of farmers and agricultural labourer was charged with sedition for a speech that was delivered to accuse govt. of not being able to solve the poverty issues of the state. Thus, in judgement, the Hon’ble Allahabad HC held- section 124A imposed restrictions on freedom of speech and acted against the interest on general public and declared it ultra vires. And such other judgements could also be traced to prove the invalidity of the section. Also it has to be mentioned that those who gave birth to this law in India, have already proceeded to abolish the law from their own land in order to fully ensure the right of speech and expression to their citizens. It must be noted that in 2009, Sedition was abolished as a crime in United Kingdom through the Coroners and Justice Act, 2009, under Gordon Brown’s Labour Government. The ministry of Justice stated that – “Sedition and Seditious and defamatory libel are arcane offences – from a bygone era when freedom of expression wasn’t seen as the right as it is today. The terms used under the definition of sedition are vague that could be taken differently by different investigating officers. Taking in note a term ‘disaffection’, it could be taken in different ways as in the Kanhaiya Kumar v State of NCT, just the lyrics of a song sung by the petitioner during university event propagated the spark of disaffection and he was charged under section 124A of IPC.
It is clearly a colonial law that was used to supress the atrocities done by then British government. It was a weapon used against many of our freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, etc. So if looked upon today, like many other colonial laws and rules, it should also be scrapped looking down the needs of modern democratic society. Recently, supreme court of India on this matter mentioned that –“ Unfortunately, continuance of this law after 75 years …this government has been scrapping many obsolete laws. We don’t know why they aren’t looking into this law? Continuance of this law is a serious threat on functioning of institutions and individuals’ liberty” remarked bench headed by CJI NV Ramana. There are facts too that support the view that this law is being misused. The number of sedition cases rose by 163% to 93 between 2016 and 2019. But conviction rate was just 3.3% meaning that just 2 out of 93 were convicted.
Thus before it becomes more tough challenge, the constitutional status of section 124A IPC should be placed under a system of check to ensure much democracy in world’s largest democracy.
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