The sensitiveness toward the freedom of speech and expression has been increased drastically in the past decades. Although, Indian Constitution guarantees us the Freedom of Expression under Article 19(1)(a). But, this freedom comes with some reasonable restrictions such as Defamation, Contempt of Court, Sedition etc. Which means the Constitution of India restricts us from giving as absolute freedom of expression. There is a very fine line between criticism and insult. In this context, insult refers to the government. In the recent decades, the government has been very touchy on this subject. On the other hand, any incident that demoralizes or insults the government is dealt with Coercion and Passive-Aggressiveness.
On of such curious case is sedition. According to Oxford living dictionary, sedition is defined as a “conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch”. But in India, the act of sedition comes under the Indian Penal Code of 1870, as IPC 124(A).
IPC 124(A) states:
“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 imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.” From the above definition IPC 124(A) breaks down into three major components.
i) The gestures responsible for the sedition (words, signs, visual representations, etc.).
ii) The activity responsible for the sedition (to bring hatred towards the government)
iii) Excite Disaffection
The Punishment (Imprisonment for lifetime and fine or imprisonment for 3 years and fine). It is a cognizable and non-bail able offense.
The provisions of IPC 124(A) are based on the Common Law of Sedition, the offense of sedition, as known and understood in England. The catch here is, nowhere in the Indian Constitution or the Indian Penal Code has ever mentioned the sedition word.
During the British Raj sedition was the response to the certain political condition to control activities that were rising against the British Government. The idea to bring the sedition law was framed down under Indian Penal Code by the Britishers in 1870. This was used to curb down the uprising nationalist movement by the Indian Freedom fighter during the British Raj. Prominent leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak went for trial under this. But the question arises here is the relevance of IPC 124(A) in Independent India. The India which is not under the British Raj.
After the Constitution of India came into operation, the constitutional powers of section 124(A) of IPC was under attack on the grounds that violates Freedom of Speech and Expression. The first judicial inspection of the constitutional validity of IPC 124 (A) came into existence in Tara Singh Gopichand Vs. State case, where East Punjab High Court ruled that the section ultra vires the constitution as it curtailed freedom of speech and expression. The court gave an opinion that IPC 124(A) has no place in the new democratic pattern of polity adopted by India.
Jawaharlal Nehru denounced this by saying that IPC 124(A) is highly objectionable and obnoxious. 11 years after independence, the Allahabad High Court in Ram Nandan Vs. State of Uttar Pradesh held IPC 124 (A) unconstitutional because it attacked the very foundations of the freedom of speech and expression. One of the most landmark cases related to sedition was Kedar Nath Singh Vs State Of Bihar, in which Kedar Nath Singh has said the following to the Congress, which was the ruling party at that time:
“Today the dogs of the CID are loitering around Barauni. Many official dogs are sitting even in this meeting. The people of India drove out the British from this country and elected these Congress goondas to the gaddi… We will strike and throw out these Congress goondas as well.”
The passage which follows the most important decision of this case is:
“Hence any acts within the meaning of s. 124A which have the effect of subverting the Government by bringing that Government into contempt or hatred, or creating disaffection against it, would be within the penal statute because the feeling of disloyalty to the Government established by law or enmity to it imports the idea of tendency to public disorder by the use of actual violence or incitement to violence. In other words, any written or spoken words, etc., which have implicit in them the idea of subverting Government by violent means, which are compendiously included in the term ‘revolution’, have been made penal by the section in question.”
The Supreme Court ruled that the law is not concerned with just the mere feeling of hatred or contempt which may lie in the heart of the persons. However, this law steps in when the inner feeling of hatred or contempt excites disaffection against the state with an intention to create public disorder by violent means.
In 2014, India Against Corruption movement headed by Anna Hazare, where a cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was arrested for drawing a cartoon for a website. The court held on a PIL that, “there can be no real freedom unless thought is free, not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought we hate”.
In 2016, when the JNU crackdown happened, Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid were slapped with sedition and the majority of the people termed them as anti-national, whereas sedition is termed as Rajdroh, not Deshdroh. In the past 3 years 112 cases booked, at least 165 arrested. (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/sedition-112-cases-booked-at-least-165-arrested-in-3-years/articleshow/61039289.cms). According to Dr. Sophy K.J., Assistant Professor at National Law University: The tyrannical law is still alive in the judicial system, and since independence, the law is still used by the state despite being heavily criticized.
In 2017 Zakir Ali Tyagi, a resident of Meerut, was slapped with sedition recently after releasing from jail under a bail. He was arrested under Section 66 of IT Act. And when NDTV asked for the charge sheet, the police replied that the concerning officers that were investigating this case are not present at this time.
So, when we look at the laws governing sedition, it has two major perspectives. The first one is, it is the law made by the Britishers in 1870 and the second one is the state is constantly using this law to curb down the freedom of speech and expression. Mahatma Gandhi once said that sedition is the rape of the word ‘law’. Whereas there are several other instances where this law has been heavily criticized. While coming to the first perspective, it has to be noted that the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 abolished the common law offenses of sedition and seditious libel in England. So why India is continuing the same draconian law given by the Britishers in 1870. Many countries including Malaysia and North Korea have termed sedition as unconstitutional and scraped away seditious laws. And for the second perspective, the most important point is how the state is in constant fear of the citizen’s uprising. In the past many years, the state is continuously suppressing the freedom of speech and expression of the citizens and trying to change the actual narrative of sedition from Rajdroh to Deshdroh. This constant narrative of Deshdroh is used by the state to build an emotional narrative is contrary to what actually sedition is.
Article Written by Aquib Israr