Lucknow, UP, India, 226028

SEDITION LAW AND ITS EVOLUTION THROUGH CASES

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INTRODUCTION

Sedition may be defined as an offense of treason but an overaction of such. It can also be termed as a commotion against the Government or the State.

In Indian legislation, Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code states about the offense of sedition. This section says that any person by way of words, either spoken or written, by signs, by visual representation, or by any other means tries to bring any hatred or contempt, or tries or attempts to excite any disaffection towards the Government which is established by law in India shall be punished with imprisonment for life to which fine may be added or with imprisonment of 3 years with which fine may be added or with only fine.

The Section has further 3 explanations to it:-

  1. The expression of “disaffection” in this Section includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.
  2. Any comment expressing disapprobation of the policies passed by the Government to achieve such change lawfully without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt, or disaffection doesn’t constitute an offence under Section 124A.
  • Any comment with an expression of disapprobation towards any action of the Government or any administrative body without exciting or attempting to excite any hatred, contempt, or disaffection doesn’t constitute an offence under Section 124A.

The offense of sedition is Cognizable, Non-bailable, and shall be tried exclusively by the Court of Sessions.

ESSENTIALS TO CONSTITUTE THE OFFENCE OF SEDITION

To constitute an offense of sedition, the following criteria must be there:-

  1. There must be an expression-
  • By words, either spoken or written.
  • By signs.
  • By visual representation.
  1. Such expression is made to bring or attempt to bring hatred or contempt.
  2. Such expression excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India.

INTENTION

In criminal law, the intention is one of the basic ingredients which must be looked into while trying any case of criminal nature. Concerning Section 124A, intention plays a vital role in judging a person whether he has committed an offense of sedition or not.

If we go through Section 124A, it mentions that the expressions through any means should excite or abet such excitement of disaffection, contempt, hatred against the Government established by law in India. So, an expression of any kind firstly must be committed with an intention to incite hatred among people. Secondly, due to such incitement, there must be abetment of a feeling of hatred among people. Thirdly, there must be an uprising among people to disturb public order. For instance, in Kedar Nath Singh’s case[1], the Apex Court held that sedition can only be invoked if it is proved that speech delivered by someone spreads violence among the masses and such speech may result in public disorder.

HISTORY OF SEDITION LAWS IN INDIA

In ancient and medieval India, there were no proper laws against any offense of sedition. The person who committed sedition was adjudicated by the ruler of that particular kingdom and usually, the punishments were of death sentence or imprisonment.

Even after the advent of colonial rule in India, there was no legislation against sedition for quite a long time. During the uprising of the sepoys and rulers of the different kingdom in 1857, the ones who were caught by the British forces were tried and executed. Maybe one of the first notable punishments given by the Company during this time was exiling the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar to Rangoon (now Myanmar). The East India Company during their span of the ruling (1757-1858) governed the Indians, to some extent, through the legislations that were in force in England.

In 1860, the Indian Penal Code was brought into effect by the British Parliament which brought proper definition and punishments for the offenses. Though the Indian Penal Code came into effect in 1860, Section 124A was inducted into I.P.C. in 1870.

In 1876, the British Government brought a law called The Dramatic Performances Act. This Act prevented any performances which were of “seditious, defamatory or scandalous nature.” This Act survived even after India got independence. It was repealed in 2017.[2]

NOTABLE CASES OF SEDITION DURING BRITISH RAJ

1. THE FIRST TRIAL UNDER S.124A

In 1891, in the case, Queen-Empress v. Jogendra Chunder Bose and Ors[3], famously known as the ‘Bangobasi case’, the first trial of sedition was conducted by the British in the backdrop of Vernacular Press and the rising nationalism in India. In this case, the publisher of a journal was accused of committing the act of sedition against the colonial rule as the article which he published was spreading ‘disaffection’ and ‘disapprobation’ against the colonial rule.

2. THE BAL GANGADHAR TILAK CASE (1897 & 1908)

In Bal Gangadhar Tilak v. Queen-Empress[4], Bal Gangadhar Tilak, a staunch advocate for freedom of India, was alleged to commit sedition. It was alleged against him that in 1897, that two of his speeches aroused violence among the masses which resulted in the death of 2 British officers.

In this case for the first time, section 124A was identified and applied by the Privy Council. It was immaterial in the eyes of the Privy Council, the incitement to violence and insurrection in regards to the culpability of the person who has been charged with sedition. He was convicted and later released on bail.

In 1908, in Bal Gangadhar Tilak v. Emperor[5], Bal Gangadhar Tilak was again prosecuted for the offense of sedition. The allegation against him, in this case, was that of seditious writings published in his newspaper Kesari.

3. MAHATMA GANDHI SEDITION CASE (1922)

Mahatma Gandhi in 1922 was charged with sedition under Section 124A. He was charged for writing 3 politically sensitive articles in his weekly journal named ‘Young India’. The Court stated that his writing brings or attempts to excite disaffection towards His Majesty’s Government established by law in British India.

Therefore, during the British Raj, the law of sedition was mostly used against the freedom fighters, revolutionaries. This law was usually invoked to suppress down the freedom fighters, the books, magazines, articles that were published against the English Government.

SEDITION LAWS IN INDIA POST INDEPENDENCE

The Hon’ble Punjab High Court in Tara Singh Gopi Chand v. The State of Punjab[6], held that Section 124A as unconstitutional as it was against the fundamental right of ‘Right of freedom of speech and expression’ guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.

The Allahabad High Court, 8 years after this judgment, in Ram Nandan v. State of Uttar Pradesh[7], in the year 1959, held that Section 124A of IPC hampered the very root of free speech.

  1. KEDAR NATH SINGH CASE

Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar[8] was the first case of sedition tried by the Court in independent India. Kedar Nath Singh was charged because of delivering an extreme speech condemning the then Central Government and called for a revolution.

The Supreme Court at the same instance upheld and criticized S.124A in this case. Here, the Apex Court opined that the very law of sedition is valid but it cannot be used to stop free speech. The Constitutional Bench held that sedition can only be invoked if it is proved that speech delivered by someone spreads violence among the masses and such speech may result in public disorder.

The Constitutional Bench further held that the delivery of any speech against any specific political party or government is not seditious. Any act of separatism by persuasion or force shall invoke sedition. 

  1. BALWANT SINGH CASE

In Balwant Singh v. State of Punjab[9], in 1995, the Apex Court acquitted Balwant Singh who was charged under Section 124A. The Supreme Court overturned this sedition conviction for the sloganeers who shouted slogans and held that such slogans do not incite violence.

  1. ASEEM TRIVEDI CASE (Sanskar Marathe v. State of Maharashtra[10])

Political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, launched a cartoon based campaign against corruption to support that movement. He launched a website where he displayed his cartoons.

Mumbai Crime Branch (MCB) banned his website on the grounds of having defamatory and derogatory cartoons. In 2012, he was charged with the offense of Section 124A IPC for his cartoons which he posted in a new blog.

Aseem was later granted bail based on a petition filed in the Court praying it to drop the charge of sedition. The sedition charges against Aseem were dropped by the Government and the Supreme Court in March 2015 scrapped Section 66A of the Information Technology Act.

  1. SHREYA SINGHAL CASE

This is one of the monumental cases in the Indian Criminal Jurisprudence. The background of the case Shreya Singhal v. Union of India[11]is that 2 young girls of Mumbai were arrested on the critical day when the city was shut down after the death of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray. Here, one of the girls posted a comment and the other girl merely ‘liked’ it on the social media platform ‘Facebook’. Shreya Singhal, a then student of law filed a petition seeking amendment of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act. This case is monumental as after this case, the Supreme Court took down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act.

Supreme Court, in this case, held that any person cannot be tried for sedition unless the speech they deliver, does not matter however unpopular, offensive, inappropriate it is if it does not incite violence or provoke masses in disrupting public order. The Apex Court further differentiated between ‘advocacy’ and ‘incitement’, stating the latter to be punishable.

  1. JAWAHARLAL NEHRU UNIVERSITY (JNU) SEDITION ROW

Kanhaiya Kumar along with two others was arrested by the Delhi Police who allegedly raised anti-national slogans in the JNU campus in an event on 9th February 2016.

The Delhi Police filed a charge sheet against Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, and others, former students of JNU on 14th January 2019, there were no Court proceedings held.

On 28th February 2020, the Prosecution Department of the Delhi Government approved the Court to proceed into the trial in this matter.

ANTI-SEDITION LAW & FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND EXPRESSION

In most of the cases decided by the Hon’ble Courts in India held in cases of sedition that any expression, expressed by any means does not constitute an offence under S.124A IPC unless such expression tends to incite the feeling of violence, hatred among the masses. Mere speech against any political party or Government does not constitute sedition. Therefore the intention of the person who is delivering such expressions is a critical point to be looked into. Anti-sedition law infringes on the fundamental right of free speech and expression.

Here, the question also arises that how much freedom of speech and expression is reasonable. This fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution is one of the most misused provisions in India. The Courts need to decide how much a person should be given the freedom to express their personal opinions keeping in mind that such expression does not hurt the sentiments of people and is not against the national interest and unity of the nation. Such a decision should be taken by the Courts in such a way that it doesn’t hamper the freedom to protest against the policies passed by the Government.

 MISUSE OF SECTION 124A IPC

We know every coin has two sides, the same way a law can be both used for the betterment of people and can also be misused against persons. The anti-sedition is no less misused.

Before independence, we know the British Government used this provision to suppress the freedom fighters. Post-independence, various State Governments and the Central Government have filed cases of sedition against various people. There are many fake sedition cases filed in the Courts throughout India.

This law has been misused in various cases such as Arundhati Roy’s case in 2010, Aseem Trivedi’s case in 2012, Praveen Togadia in 2003, and Simranjit Singh Mann in 2005. In 2012-13, the Tamil Nadu police filed sedition cases against thousands of people protesting against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project. In this, 23,000 people were taken in temporary custody and 9000 were arrested on the charges of sedition. The Union Government in 2004-2014 filed a number of cases of sedition against citizens which remains pending to date.

CONCLUSION

Criminal law is an ever-evolving law. In criminology, no two cases are similar. We have seen that in Indian judicature, the Hon’ble Courts at different levels have equally safeguarded and punished the perpetrators charged under the law of sedition. The law of sedition, if scrapped, shall disable the Judiciary to try any offender whose actions or words are against the interest of the Nation. But the judiciary should also make sure that any person who has merely spoken against the policies of the Government isn’t termed as an anti-national. At the same time, the judiciary also needs to look into that if any person with a separatist expression in any means creates unrest, then such a person is punished by law.

Anti-sedition law has its pros and cons. This law from time to time has been misused by various people. But the fact cannot be ignored that there are people who wish to create unrest in the country just because they don’t agree with the Government’s policies and the legislation brought by it. The organs of the Parliament must decide on how much of expression against any government is plausible and whether such expression or the way of expressing such dissent doesn’t harm others or harm public property. This way the real perpetrators would get punished for their offense.

Author(s) Name: Arka Ray (Surendranath Law College, University of Calcutta)

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[1]A.I.R. 1962 SC 955

[2]https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/reviews-recommendations/the-great-repression-the-history-of-sedition-in-india

[3](1892) I.L.R. 19 Cal 35

[4]I.L.R. 1898 (22) Bom 528

[5](1908) 10 Bom L.R. 848

[6]1951 Cri L.J. 449

[7]A.I.R. 1959 All 101

[8]A.I.R. 1962 SC 955

[9]1995 (1) SCR 411

[10]2015 Cri L.J. 3561

[11](2013) 12 SCC 73