Sedition Law in India Scrapped? Latest SC Judgement 2022

Written by: Simran Khosla


Introduction: –

Sedition law is defined under section 124(A) of Indian Penal Code (IPC). When any person provokes the general public and attempts to bring in hatred, disloyalty and disaffection against the government by words, sign or action, then such an act is called Sedition. Sedition is a non- Bailable offence and the punishment for the offence may extend from 3 years to life imprisonment.

History of Sedition law: –

In 1590, sedition law was in England and after 1857, the time when Indian Freedom movement was going on, that movement was linked with codification of criminal law.

In the year 1860, IPC was introduced by Lord Macaulay, who was first Law Commissioner of India. There wasn’t any mention of section 124(A) in IPC at that time.

In 1870, sedition law was introduced and added in chapter IV under IPC. It was added to suppress the freedom fighters who were emerging to fight against the colonial law that existed at that time. The British government wanted to make their direct influence over the people so they would be unable to defend themselves against the British government.

In 1891, the first trial was conducted in Bangabasi case in which 5 articles were opposed on Hindu traditions and morality.

In 1897, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who was freedom fighter in colonial time, was convicted under sedition law. He was the first person to be convicted under this law. The reason stated for his conviction under 124-A of IPC was disaffection and disloyalty towards the British government, and therefore was imprisoned for 18 months.

In 1948, the word “Sedition” was almost dropped from the constitution after discussion of the constituent assembly but thereafter section 124- A continued to stay in Indian Panel code.

After this, court made interpretations on sedition law a number of times. From the beginning years of sedition law there were two ingredients of the law i.e. Public Disorder & Violence. Thereafter, in the upcoming years, court had changed and narrowed down the definition and meaning of sedition law. After this decision, the court held that when any person threatens the security of the state then such an act or conduct will be termed as Sedition.

Thereafter, in India the cases of sedition law kept increasing and therefore the constitutional validity of the law was challenged through these cases.

Cases on Sedition Law: –

In 1962, in Kedarnath v. State of Bihar case, the constitutional validity of Sedition Law was challenged. In this case, Kedarnath criticised the government in his speech and provoked the general public. The Supreme Court then held that Section 124-A of IPC is constitutionally valid.

In 1995, Balwant Singh v. State of Punjab case, many people were released who were shouting the slogan “Khalistan Zindabad” and general public gave no response to it. So, the court declared that as long as there is no riot or fight between the general public it will not be considered as sedition. So, chanting slogans alone doesn’t qualify to be Sedition.

The Shreya Singhal v. Union of India case 2005, in this case the police arrested two people on whom allegations were imposed that they made an offensive comment on Facebook when the Mumbai city was shut down due to the death of a political leader. After that, court discussed the three important concepts of Sedition Law, they are-

  1. Discussion
  2. Advocacy and
  3. Incitement

The court held that, when any of these three concepts exists, it will not be considered as Sedition.

The Kanhaiya Kumar Case of 2016, in which Kanhaiya Kumar, a former JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) student, is being tried under sedition law because he along with other nine members raised slogan in an event at college. It was alleged that through these slogans he attempted to emanate feeling of hatred among the people.

When India became Independent in the year 1947, some of the great personalities supported the word “Sedition” they were, Sardar Vallabai Patel and C. Rajagopalachari.

The personalities who opposed sedition were, K.M. Munshi and Somnath Lahiri.

In U.K, from the year 1972 to 2009, there were no charges of sedition on any person. Then, in the year 2009, the Sedition law was abolished.

In India, from the year 2014 to 2019, there were 326 cases filed in the matter of sedition and out of them only 6 were convicted. However, only one or two accused have been convicted in the last three years.

Conviction under Section 124A of IPC: –

Some famous personalities who have been tried under the sedition law are:

  1. Arundhatti Roy
  2. Binayak Sen
  3. Aseem Trivedi
  4. Hardik Patel
  5. Kanhaiya Kumar
  6. Umar khalid
  7. Andrew Sam Raja Pandian
  8. Dhaval Patel
  9. Amulya Leona Noronha
  10. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with the offence of sedition, which is a criminal offence in India. Sedition is defined as any act that attempts to bring hatred or contempt towards the government of India, or to excite disaffection among the people towards the government. This includes any words, signs, or visible representations that are intended to cause feelings of hatred or contempt towards the government.

The origins of sedition law in India can be traced back to the British colonial era, where it was used to suppress any dissent against the colonial government. Even after India gained independence, the sedition law continued to be in force, and has been used by successive governments to suppress political dissent and criticism.

However, the sedition law has been widely criticized by human rights activists, legal experts, and the media, for being draconian and against the principles of free speech and expression. Critics argue that the law is often misused to silence dissent and criticism, and that it is a tool in the hands of the government to stifle opposition.

In recent years, there have been several high-profile cases of sedition in India, including the arrest of students for allegedly shouting anti-India slogans, and the arrest of journalists and activists for criticizing the government.

Despite the criticism, the sedition law remains in force in India. The punishment for sedition includes imprisonment for life, or imprisonment for up to three years, along with a fine. The law also allows for the prosecution of anyone who attempts to commit sedition, even if they do not actually succeed in doing so.

The use of sedition law in India has been a subject of debate and controversy for many years. While some argue that it is necessary to maintain national security and stability, others believe that it is a violation of the fundamental right to free speech and expression. As India continues to evolve as a democratic country, the debate on sedition law is likely to continue.

Conclusion: –

On 30th April, 2021, a three judges bench held that “if Section 124-A of IPC overrides the fundamental right covered under Article 19 (right to freedom of speech and expression) then constitutional validity of section 124A will be reconsidered.” The judgement was given by the Court on 15th July, 2021, and the misuse of the vast powers was questioned and it was asked by the court why the said law should not be removed.

The recent judgement of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the year 2022, it was held that no new cases will be registered under this law and Court allowed the centre to reconsider the provision of Section 124-A of IPC.

With time the scope of this law became wider in nature, therefore the misuse of the law increased. Conclusively, the court is now interpreting the legislative intent behind existence of the Sedition law.  


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