Sedition Law: Section 124A of IPC, Issues in India, Cases on Sedition Law UPSC

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

Sedition Law is one of the most controversial laws in the Indian Penal Code. Introduced in colonial India under the British regime, it was used as a tool of repression against any and all forms of political dissent. Sir Thomas Macaulay wrote it in 1837 but was somehow excluded from the first draft of the Indian Penal Code that was introduced in India in 1860. However, it was brought into the IPC by an amendment in 1870.

IPC Section 124A deals with sedition. Sedition is described as instigating hatred, discontent, and dissatisfaction against the country’s government that has been set up by following the due course of law. As an aspirant, it is essential to understand the latest happenings around the sedition law in India. One should prepare a short essay on Sedition Law, which will prove helpful at all stages of the exam.

Sedition Law

Sedition Law in India has a long history dating back to the Colonial rule of the British Empire. However, this archaic law has been redeemed in our constitution as well.

IPC Section 124A deals with the semiotics and semantics behind the word ‘sedition’. Sedition law defines ‘sedition’ as an act of offense executed through words, be it spoken or written, or through visible representation/signs, that instigates hatred and/or contempt among the masses for the government formed by law in India. This contempt or hatred is inclusive of feelings of enmity and disloyalty.

History of the Sedition Law

Sedition is not a domestic concept but rather a foreign one introduced in India under British colonial rule. Sedition Law in India has a long history, which has been summarised precisely below:

  • Sedition laws were introduced in 17th century England when the government believed that the only opinions that should exist in the society about the government and monarch should be positive.
  • The law was drafted, as we know it today, by Sir Thomas Macaulay, the British politician, and historian famous for Macaulay’s Minute, in 1837.
  • This law was omitted when the India Penal Code was implemented in 1860 for reasons that remain inexplicable today.
  • The sedition law was brought in as section 124A by an amendment to the IPC initiated by Sir James Stephen.
  • This actively made sedition a criminal offense in India, which continues to exist in an independent India.

Sedition Laws in India

Four such laws in India cover seditious activities that are discussed in the table below-

Sedition Laws What Sedition Laws state
The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (Section 124A) Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code defines sedition and the punishment that a person can be charged with if caught practicing a seditious act. It defines sedition as a criminal offense that can be undertaken using words, be it spoken or written, or through visible representation/signs that instigate hatred and/or contempt and disloyalty/disaffection among the masses for the government formed by law in India.
The Seditious Meetings Act, 1911 Any person concerned in the promotion or conduct of a public meeting held in a proclaimed area contrary to the provisions of Section 4 shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, with a fine, or both.
The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (Section 95) Section 95 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of India empowers the governments to declare publication houses that satisfy certain criteria forfeited by means of notification and provides provisions for the Magistrates to issue search warrants for the same.
The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (Section 2(0) (iii)) Section 2(1)(o) (iii) deals with the definition of an “unlawful activity” and describes it as an act related to a person or an association that aims to cause or is actively causing disaffection/disloyalty against India.

Punishments Under Sedition Law

The Indian Penal Code states sedition as a criminal offense under section 124A. And under this article, the offense is described along with the appropriate punishment for the individual charged with this offense.

  • Sedition is a non-bailable crime. As defined under IPC section 124A, the punishment may range from a three-year imprisonment term to a life sentence. A fine can further be imposed on this.
  • Government jobs aren’t an option for those charged with seditious activity, as they are banned from all such opportunities.
  • The accused are to live without passports and must mark their court attendance whenever required.

Significance of IPC Section 124A

The IPC’s Section 124A is useful in the fight against terrorist, separatist, and anti-national groups. Yet, opposition and criticism of the government are crucial components of a lively democracy’s public discourse.

The significance of IPC Section 124A or the Sedition Law are:

  • Reasonable Restrictions: Article 19(2) provides for reasonable restrictions in the Constitution of India. These can always be out on the fundamental right of speech and expression if it is to be exercised responsibly and assures its equal availability to all citizens.
  • Integrity and Unity: Sedition laws become necessary in internal turmoil and discontent while working against anti-national elements, secessionists, and terrorists.
  • State’s Stability: They prevent coups by illegal means and violence to upturn the elected governments. Situations like these are extremely distressing for the country; hence, the continuance of law-established governments becomes very important to the State’s stability.

Issues Related to Sedition Law

A colonial law known as sedition promotes the notion that the “King is Supreme.” Sedition Laws ought to be prohibited from guaranteeing the right to dissent.  Even if the sedition law is repealed, the misuse of the preventative detention laws, NSA, UAPA, etc., would continue to restrict the right to dissent.

There is a huge debate around the Sedition laws in India. The issues related to it have been discussed below.

Archaic Laws from the Colonial Times:

  • To banish all criticism of the government and the monarch, sedition laws were enacted in England.
  • Due to their speeches opposing British rule, our liberation warriors like Jawahar Lal Nehru, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Bhagat Singh were labeled criminals under these laws.
  • Using antiquated sedition laws to stifle political dissent and oppositional viewpoints harms society.

Constituent Assembly’s stand:

  • The members of the Constituent Assembly who drafted our Constitution were divided on how sedition laws should be treated since they believed that doing so would contradict the document’s protections for free speech.
  • As this was the original objective for creating these laws by the British, they were highly accurate in their prediction that they would be particularly susceptible to abuse by the governments in power.
  • It might limit the residents’ ability to demonstrate.

Disregarding the Supreme Court’s Judgement:

  • The Supreme Court of India was instructed to restrict the use of sedition in the Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar case of 1962.
  • The apex court’s judgment continues to be disregarded as seditious accusations are still brought against people with academic credentials, students, social activists, etc.

The Reprisal of Democratic Values: The calculated and irresponsible use of the sedition laws has led to India being called an ‘elected autocracy.

Sedition Law – IPC Section 124A [Latest Updates]

There have been numerous speculations about the sedition law at its center that questions its relevance in a democratic country like India that offers the right to free speech and expression as fundamental rights to its citizens.

The Supreme Court of India scrapped a petition that sought action against Farooq Abdullah, former Chief Minister of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, for his remarks on the abrogation of Article 370 in the state. The bench stated on 3rd February 2021 that speaking against the country’s government and its policies shouldn’t be considered a seditious act.

  • In June 2021, the SC emphasized defining the limits of Sedition Law while protecting two Telugu news channels from adverse actions by the Andhra Pradesh government.
  • In 2021, the Chief Justice of India (CJI) also questioned the relevance of this law that was once used as a political tool to keep the country forever under the shackles of colonialism, exploitation, and wealth drain. He also commented on how the law was made to favor the government and is, by its very nature, prone to misuse by the government.

The CJI bench recently put the sedition law case trial on hold and asked the Centre and state governments to review it. And in response, the center has submitted its opinions before the Supreme Court. It maintained a pro-sedition law stance and did not need to review the validity of these laws since the Kedar Nath case (1962) judgment stated that it was a ‘good law’.

Important Sedition Law Cases in India

In 2021, the CJI (Chief Justice of India) questioned why, 75 years after India gained its independence, colonial legislation used against Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak was still included in the law system. Sedition, or Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, was said to be subject to abuse by the government, according to the Chief Justice.

Sedition Law Cases Under British India

There have been multiple cases in India related to sedition laws. Some of the important ones have been discussed below:

Queen v. Jogendar Chunder Bose

  • An article that criticized the Age of Consent Act of 1891 was published by Jogendra Chunder Bose.
  • This step by him was an act of disobedience toward the government. However, the charges were soon dropped, and Bose was released on bail.

Lokmanya Tilak’s Sedition Trial (1897 and 1908)

  • The 1897 trial of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, a radical and beloved figure from the Indian Independence movement, had reported ‘Shivaji’s Utterances’ in his dailies Kesari and Maratha.
  • Shivaji’s utterances were a celebration of Shivaji’s Coronation.
  • This article landed him with sedition charges under Section 124A. This case was especially famous as it widened the scope of this article.
  • Following these charges, Tilak was subjected to 18 months of rigorous imprisonment.
  • After the case was over in 1908, Tilak wrote and published two articles in Kesari, ‘ These Remedies Are Not Lasting’ and ‘The Country’s Misfortune’.

Mahatma Gandhi’s Sedition Trial (1922)

  • Mahatma Gandhi was among the most prominent in the Indian struggle for independence.
  • His newspaper ‘Young India’ was the one that landed him in jail on charges of sedition in the year 1922.
  • He was charged with inciting disaffection towards the Crown’s government established in British India by law.
  • Gandhi described Article 124A as the ‘prince’ of the political sections in the Indian Penal Code that would completely suppress the citizen’s liberty.

Sedition Law Cases in Independent India

The Indian Penal Code, 1860, Section 124A, was passed with the intention of eradicating and suppressing all remaining social forms of resistance. Such a tendency goes against democracy’s fundamental principles. Such a clause doesn’t seem necessary in a developed nation like India.

Brij Bhushan And Another v. The State Of Delhi (1950) and Romesh Thappar v. the State of Madras (1950)

  • The Supreme Court ruling stated that any law that curbed the rights of expression and speech was unconstitutional.
  • This prompted the ‘First Constitutional Amendment’, which rewrote article 19(2). This amendment replaced “undermining the security of the State” with “in the interest of public order” to fit the judgment.

Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar (1962)

  • Section 124A was questioned in this case. Its validity and relevance were put to trial.
  • The case around a ‘seditious’ speech by a member of the Forward Bloc.
  • The Supreme Court upheld the definition of seditious writing as writing that alludes to the violent overthrow of a government (including phrases like revolution).
  • Even a failed attempt at instigation shall be counted as sedition. Public disorder in any way is considered to be seditious.
  • However, there was no distinction drawn between what was seditious and what was simple criticism of the government and its measures here.

Balwant Singh v. State of Punjab (1962)

  • Balwant Singh was the Director of Public Instructions in Punjab and Chandigarh and was allegedly seen sloganeering pro-Khalistani slogans on the day of Indira Gandhi’s, the former Prime Minister of India, assassination.
  • Here, the Supreme Court upheld that without public disorder, there can’t be charges of sedition that would garner a punishment under Article 124A.

Sedition Law UPSC

Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code addresses sedition, a felony against the state. The term “sedition law” refers to a set of legislation that punishes speech or behavior that is regarded to pose a risk to national security or governmental authority. Sedition needs to be prohibited in order to guarantee the exercise of the freedom to dissent. The conflicts that are constructive shouldn’t be punished since they can advance the nation.
Sedition Laws in India are a hot topic in the current political scenario and are mostly in the news. Students must be updated with the current affairs topics to be able to answer questions related to the topic.

MCQs on Sedition Law

Sedition law is a topic that is often in the news and has divided opinions. Practice these questions curated by experts on the topic.

Question: Which article does the sedition law concern itself with?

a] Article 142, [b] Article 124A, [c] Article 19(2), [d] Article 24

Answer: Article 124A

Question: When were sedition laws brought into effect in India?

[a] 1837, [b] 1870, [c] 1860, and [d] 1892

Answer: 1860

Question: Sedition is a:

[a] Bailable offense, [b] Non-bailable offense [c] Cognizable offense, [d] Statutory criminal offense

Answer: Non-bailable offense

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