Freedom of speech is a preferred right which must always be guarded zealously by this (Supreme Court) court.– Venkataramaiah J[i].
[i] Odyssey communications v. Lokvidsyan Sanghatana (1988) 3 SCC 410.
The United Kingdom introduced the sedition law in India, yet between 1972 and 2009, the UK did not bring any sedition charges against anyone. In 2009, the United Kingdom totally repealed the sedition law. The history of the sedition statute is intertwined with the Indian independence struggle. Sedition was initially codified in 1870 as an offence under the Indian Penal Code’s Chapter IV, which deals with crimes against the state. There has been a long-running dispute over the misuse of Section 124A and whether or not it should be declared unconstitutional.
Section 124A IPC:
Sedition is a crime committed when someone attempts or incites hostility or discontent in the general public against the government through their words, signs, or acts. Sedition is defined as an offence committed when someone incites or seeks to stir hatred or contempt in others against a government that is constituted by law. It is necessary that incitement causes violence in the public. The instigation can come in the form of a speech, a letter, a sign, or any other comparable form.
Section 124A has been criticized on various occasions since independence, with the claim that it hinders our “freedom of expression.” Many in an India that is secular and independent, and where democratic values are preserved, have questioned the so-called “tyrannical” remnants of colonial rule. As a result, some have claimed that the Indian Penal Code’s law is a violation of the country’s Constitution.
Why should the law be scrapped?
The sedition law was supposed to be used only in rare cases where the country’s security and sovereignty were threatened, according to the Kedar Nath[i] decision in 1962. However, there are growing indications that this rule has been used to curb dissent and free speech against political opponents. According to Article 14, 25 sedition cases were brought following the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests, 22 after the Hathras gang rape, and 27 after the Pulwama event, according to the most recent data. In total, 405 Indians were charged with sedition in the last decade, with 96 percent of the cases being brought after 2014.
Additionally, as per the National Crime Records Bureau, sedition charges have increased by 163 percent from 47 in 2014 to 93 in 2019. The conversion rate from cases to convictions, on the other hand, is only 3%. This demonstrates how the police and other state authorities are indiscriminately employing sedition laws to instil terror among residents and muzzle any criticism or opposition against the regime.
While some may regard a speech to be “seditious” and “anti-national,” others may see it as democratic and beneficial. There is no doubt that, notwithstanding judicial safeguards, the sedition law has been utilized and abused by successive administrations to attain their political goals. The stifling effect of these laws threatens to undermine and finally remove the constitutionally guaranteed right to peacefully protest, dissent, and criticize the government.
The primary grounds for overturning the sedition law are that it infringes on the basic right to freedom of speech and expression provided by Article 19(1)(a)[ii] of the Indian Constitution, and that the section’s vague and wide provisions impair that freedom. Another argument in favor of repeal is that other laws exist to replace this anti-sedition law, making Section 124A of the IPC obsolete and unneeded.
The escalating misuse of sedition laws by governments of all shades (including opposition-ruled states) is a source of great worry. Sedition laws and their flagrant misuse challenge the fundamental core of the liberties established in the Indian Constitution. The judiciary must evaluate this draconian law as soon as possible. Even though repealing the law is unlikely, toning it down and setting rigorous restrictions to limit, its indiscriminate use can assist India’s democratic status while still protecting freedom of expression.
- Daisy Jain, Sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code and its constitutional validity, Blog iPleaders, https://blog.ipleaders.in/sedition-under-section-124a-of-the-indian-penal-code-and-its-constitutional-validity/#Growing_misuse_of_Section_124A_IPC
- Lexlifeeditor, Should the Sedition Law be Scrapped? Lexlife India, https://lexlife.in/2021/09/06/should-the-sedition-law-be-scrapped/
- Meher Manga, Sedition law: A threat to Indian democracy? ORF, https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/sedition-law-threat-indian-democracy/
[i] Kedar Nath Singh vs State Of Bihar, 1962 AIR 955.
[ii] Article 19(1)(a) states that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression.
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