Everything you need to know about the Law Of Sedition

Sedition, simply put, is any conduct or speech made that is intended to persuade others to oppose the State. The law of sedition was originally drafted by Thomas Macaulay but was only brought in India by the British to repress free speech during India’s struggle for independence. Presently, this law is read as Section 124A under the Indian Penal Code. As per the Code, ‘Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India’ shall be punished with life imprisonment.[1] Hence, the offence is considered grave in nature.

Essentially, this section requires:

  1. Bringing or attempting to bring into hatred or contempt or exciting or attempting to excite disaffection towards, the Government of India.
  2. Such act or attempt may be done (i) by words, either spoken or written, or (ii) by signs, (iii) by visible representation.

To be called as an offence, what this section must have is the intention with which the language is used and what is rendered punishable by section 124-A of the penal code is the intentional attempt, successful or otherwise, the rouse as against Government the feelings enumerated in the section, a mere tendency in an act to promote such feelings is not sufficient to justify a conviction; in other words, the prosecution must bring home to the accused that his intention was as is described in the section itself.[2]

The latest example of the offence was seen when the Delhi Police arrested Kanhaiya Kumar, the President of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Student’s Union, on the complaints of sedition as he allegedly raised anti-India slogans in a student rally. However, he was later released on an interim bail.

Interestingly, when the first amendment took effect in the Constitution, which included restrictions on the Fundamental Right of freedom of speech and expression through the addition of words “in interest of” and “public order”, Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru was of the opinion that the law of sedition should be declared unconstitutional. He had said, “…now so far as I am concerned [Section 124-A] is highly objectionable and obnoxious and it should have no place both for practical and historical reasons. The sooner we get rid of it the better.”

Thus, there has been ever rising conflict between Section 124-A and Article 19 (1) (a). This dispute came to an end in 1962 where the issue before the court was whether Section 124A was violative of Article 19(1)(a) relating to freedom of speech and expression.[3] The Supreme Court held the offence to be constitutionally valid. Such actions would be penal as long as the matters related to the intent or tendency to induce public disorder or violence.

There is no denying the fact that Section 124-A has been misused by the law enforcement agencies. There is a reason why sedition has lost its potency and that is because this was a colonial law introduced to suppress the opinion and expression which ought to be raised. However, with the changes the State has gone through, a change is also required in this law.

Yes, national security is our priority and therefore Section 124-A is protected by the reasonable restrictions but mere usage of words or actions cannot suffice the intent to influence an educated society against the State. The question of the hour is “Do we require a law which was only introduced to ultimately contain the voice of the people who had the courage to speak and change the future of India?”

The answer, in my opinion, shall be unanimous.


[1] The Indian Penal Code, 1960

[2] Satyaranjan Bakshi v. Emperor (AIR 1927 Cal 698)

[3] Kedar Nath Singh vs State Of Bihar 1962 AIR 955




Srishti Gupta

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