What is Sedition?

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In India, Sedition falls under section 124A of the IPC (Indian Penal Code). It is defined as any action that brings or attempts to bring contempt or hatred towards the government of India. Sedition cases are punishable with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

It categorises four sources of seditious acts: 

  • spoken words, 
  • written words, 
  • signs or 
  • visible representations. 

It is classified as “cognisable”(No need of Court warrant to arrest the person) and a “non-bailable” and “non-compoundable” offence.

History of Sedition in India:

Sedition laws were first enacted in 17th century England. Later it was inserted into IPC in 1870.

  1. The section was introduced initially to deal with increasing Wahabi activities between 1863 and 1870. These activities posed a challenge to the colonial government.
  2. Some of the most famous sedition trials of the late 19th and early 20th century involved Indian nationalist leaders.
    • The first among them was the trial of Jogendra Chandra Bose in 1891. He was the editor of the newspaper, Bangobasi. He wrote an article criticizing the Age of Consent Bill for posing a threat to the religion and for its coercive relationship with Indians.
    • It was also used to prosecute Bal Gangadhar Tilak (for his writings in Kesari) in 1897.
    • The other well-known case was the sedition trial of Mahatma Gandhi in 1922. Gandhi had called Sedition “the prince among the political sections of the IPC designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen”.
Judicial interventions on Sedition law:
  1.  In 1951, the Punjab High Court had ruled Section 124A to be unconstitutional. A similar ruling was passed in 1959 by the Allahabad High Court, which also concluded that it struck at the very root of free speech.
  2. Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar,1962:
    • The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of Section 124-A (sedition) on the basis that this power was required by the state to protect itself.
    • However, it said that every citizen has a right to say or write about the government by way of criticism or comment. A citizen can criticise the government to the extent it does not incite people into violence against the government or with the intention of creating public disorder.
  3. P.Alavi vs State of Kerala,1982:
    The Supreme Court held that sloganeering, criticising of Parliament or Judicial setup does not amount to sedition.
  4. Balwant Singh v State of Punjab,1995:
    • The Supreme Court acquitted persons from charges of sedition for shouting slogans such as “Khalistan Zindabad”.
    • The court held that mere raising of slogans by two individuals alone cannot be sid as sedition. Further, it is also not considered as an attempt aimed to excite hatred or disaffection against the government.
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