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LAW OF SEDITION AND FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION: THE INTERPLAY.

INTRODUCTION


Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 deals with the sedition law of India, which was introduced at the time when India was under foreign rule.


Therefore, the laws during that time were formulated to deprive the citizens of India of their rights so that they can rule over them and expand their colony.


On the other hand, freedom of speech and expression is a basic human right that was put within the ambit of fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution after the independence of the country. The sole aim was to provide the rights to the citizens which was taken away by the foreign rulers.


This was the past scenario when all these rights were being formulated in the country.

Presently, there are various cases where sedition and freedom of expression counter each other.


Citizens are prevented from expressing their views against the government in power, executive, judiciary, etc. in the name of the law of sedition.


The misuse of sedition law and the interdependency of sedition law and freedom of expression on each other would be further analyzed in this article.


BACKGROUND


“Law of sedition which is mentioned in section 124 A of Indian Penal Code 1860 is the prince of Indian Penal Code,1860”- M K Gandhi


Law of sedition is a colonial law drafted by Thomas Babington Macaulay and was inserted in 124A of the Indian Penal Code[1] particularly to refuse the opinions of Indian citizens, media, and of the then freedom fighters.


The word sedition is nowhere defined in the Indian Constitution. In a literal sense, sedition means conduct or speech which results in an insurgency against the state.


Under the Indian Penal Code[2] “Any person by words either spoken or written or by signs or visible representation or otherwise bring or attempt to bring into hatred or contempt or execute or attempt to excite disaffection[3] towards government established by law in India.”


Historically, sedition was introduced in India after the “fatwa” issued by Deoband Ulema in which Indian Muslims were directed to do Jihaad(holy war) against Britishers.[4]

HISTORICAL ILLUSTRATIONS OF SEDITION:


Queen Emperor V Balgangadhar Tilak[5]

Bg Gangadhar Tilak was charged for sedition twice. In 1887: he agitated the Indian citizens to spread violence against Britishers and this was the very first time when sedition was applied. In 1990: the word disaffection towards the government was interpreted in this case, Tilak wrote an article in his newspaper KESARI on the Maratha warrior Shivaji which was declared agitating towards the government.


MK Gandhi and Shri Shankarlal Ghelabha[6] were held guilty of sedition for causing hatred against the British government in 1992 before the session judge of Ahmedabad.


Pandit Jawaharlal Lal Nehru addressed a mass assembly of peasants at Allahabad in 1930 and started a non-tax campaign. He was arrested for the offense of sedition.

SEDITION: NOT A GROUND OF REASONABLE RESTRICTION


A committee on fundamental rights headed by Sirdar Valla Bhai Patel. This committee added sedition as one of the grounds on which freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1) (a) can be registered.


The constitution provides various fundamental rights to the citizen of India, one of these rights are freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 of the Indian constitution.

This freedom of speech and expression was not absolute and had certain restrictions and according to the S. Patel Committee, one of those restrictions was sedition and was present in the draft constitution. Various debates and discussions were held not to include sedition as a ground for restriction on freedom of speech and expression.


Ultimately sedition was not included as a reasonable restriction on freedom of speech and expression.


Presently, there are eight grounds of a reasonable restriction on the freedom of speech and expression that is:


  • Public order

  • Sovereignty and integrity of the country

  • Contempt of court

  • Incitement to violence

  • Decency and morality

  • Friendly relation with foreign states

  • Defamation


But, sedition law is still mentioned in section 124(A) OF Indian Penal Code, 1860.

CONSTITUTIONAL VALIDITY OF SEDITION

According to article 13[7] of the Indian constitution, any law whether enacted before independence or after independence has to be consistent with fundamental rights[8] to be constitutionally valid and any law which is inconsistent with part III of the Indian Constitution will be declared unconstitutional and void.


In the case of Kedar Nath Singh V State of Bihar[9], the constitutional validity of sedition was challenged. According to the Supreme Court sedition under the Indian Penal Code is valid but the interpretation of sedition law will be narrowed down.


Sedition and freedom of speech cannot go in one line. Therefore, freedom of speech and expression being a fundamental right will have an upper hand but if any person is using this freedom to incite people to violence against the government then he will be booked under sedition and will be sentenced to 3 years of imprisonment or life imprisonment and fine.


The reason behind this is that inciting violence goes against public order and public order is one of the reasonable restrictions of freedom of speech and expression[10] and in that case the constitutional validity of sedition law is intact, only the interpretation is narrowed down.


  • In the case of Balwant Singh[11], the Sikh community in Punjab wanted an independent country for Sikhs during the Indira Gandhi government and they raised slogans like “Raj Karega Khalsa” and “Khalistan zindabad”. Those people who raised such slogans were arrested for sedition. Supreme Court held that slogans won’t be deemed as sedition as people have the freedom of speech and expression unless and until they are inciting people to violence, raise arms, etc.

  • Shreya Singhal V Union of India[12] is the landmark judgment on sedition law. The word “speech” was interpreted in this case by the Supreme Court. Supreme Court stated that through you spoken or written words can advocate and propagate whatever they want to but does not incite people to violence. If because of such speeches there is a breakdown of public order and violation of peace and tranquility in the state then only that person can be booked under sedition.


COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS


  1. UNITED KINGDOM: the UK has terminated the use of sedition law in the year 2009 after the last trial in 1947. According to UK courts sedition, the law does not reflect the value of modern democracy that the UK follows.

  2. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Some of the laws on sedition have been repealed and some are made inoperative. Courts now provide wide interpretation of free speech and expressions.

  3. MALAYSIA: Freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed by the constitution broadly but still sedition laws are used firmly.

  4. NETHERLANDS: Same as Malaysia, sedition law exists but precautions related to sedition have not been used since the year 1978.

  5. AUSTRALIA: Since the year 1985, the scope of sedition law has been narrowed down and punishment has also been rendered from imprisonment to fine only.

  6. NEW ZEALAND: Sedition law was abolished in the year 2007, similar offences were addressed through the order of criminal law provision.


CONCLUSIVE REMARKS

Even though there is intact law about sedition and Supreme Court is also clear in its ruling, still, the sedition law is seen to be misused by the police in India.

There are various examples in this reference, that is, student activists in JNU[13] were arrested, activists protesting against CAB[14] have also been booked under sedition, Arundhati Roy, Hardik Patel, Kanhaiya Kumar, and most recently Disha Ravi (for raising voice against new farm bill) and many more have been booked under sedition and therefore, according to law commission report sedition law should be relooked and there also there are demands for striking down the entire sedition law.


In India, many cases of sedition are registered every year, out of which only a few of them can reach the conviction stage.


In a recent discussion held between the 3 judge bench of the Supreme Court, it was stated that if section 124 A of IPC is found to be violative of Article 19 then it shall be repealed. Also, in a country like India which follows the principle of modern democracy and which is on the path of being a developed nation, such laws like that of sedition should not prevail.


[1] Through an amendment act of 1870.

[2] Section 124 A

[3] Includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.

[4] Movement of freedom in India.

[5] 1887 and 1990.

[6] Printer and publisher of YOUNG INDIA.

[7] Any law inconsistent with or in derogation of fundamental rights

[8] Part III of Indian Constitution

[9] 1962

[10] Article 19(2)

[11] 1995

[12] 2015

[13] Jawaharlal Nehru university

[14] Citizenship amendment bill


Navin Kumar Jaggi

Harshit Garima

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