”Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by the law. If one has no affection for a person, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote or incite to violence.”. - Mahatma Gandhi
The term ‘Sedition’ means “conduct or speech which results in mutiny against the authority of the state”. It is a controversial provision which was introduced by The British Government in 1870 to stifle dissent against the colonial Government of the time. The Origin of Sedition law in India is connected to the Wahabis Movement of the 19th century, wherein, the Muslim Ulema, Ahmed Barelvi had given a call of jihad against The British Government.
Section 124A IPC explains sedition as: “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 dissatisfaction towards, the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which a fine may be added; or, with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which a fine may be added; or, with fine.”
The above-mentioned, harsh provision, presents Sedition as an ‘overt conduct’ of free speech and organisation, that tends towards rebellion against the established order. However, it is forgotten that sedition is something which is committed against the government, and not the country.
The preamble of our constitution, very well promises to secure for all its citizens liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship. Freedom of speech and expression is an inherent human right and a part of the basic structure of the constitution. The citizens have a right to think as they like, express their thoughts, have their own beliefs and faith, and worship in a manner which they feel like. It is important to understand that the ruling government and the country are not same. Therefore, the democratic polity should not have any unnecessary power to control public opinion so as to dissolve the citizens’ right to dissent.
The point of the sedition law can essentially be said to supress free speech and free thought of the people, both of which are unpopular with the government. In a country, where a critic can be silenced with the threat of a possible life sentence, makes the provision and power of the government itself deterrent.
The validity of section 124A of IPC has been questioned in various Supreme court cases; in Kedarnath Singh vs State of Bihar , the judgment went into the issue of whether the law on sedition is consistent with the fundamental right under Article 19 (1) (a) which guarantees each citizen’s freedom of speech and expression. The Supreme Court laid down that every citizen has a right to say or write about the government, by way of criticism or comment, as long as it does not “incite people to violence” against the government established by law or with the intention of creating public disorder. Hereafter in 2003, in the case of Nazir Khan vs. State of Delhi  the Supreme Court emphasised that: “It is the fundamental right of every citizen to have his own political theories and ideas and to propagate them and work for their establishment so long as he does not seek to do so by force and violence or contravene any provision of law. and that the mere use of the words ‘fight’ and ‘war’ in their pledge did not necessarily mean that the society planned to achieve its object by force and violence.”
Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatama Gandhi are two of the more famous names who were prosecuted under the sedition law, amongst a host of other people, including newspaper editors and journalists, social activists etc. Irrespective of various supreme court judgements, in the present day too, we see people like Sharjeel Imam being charged with sedition for allegedly inciting people during the earlier CAA protests. The Delhi government was also recently seen as giving a go ahead to prosecute the former JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar for raising anti national slogans in the famous JNU Sedition case. Not only this, we also see cases where provisions of seditions are invited in a dispute between students of Aligarh Muslim University and a private news channel where the Government is not even seen as a party involved in any form. Moreover, people often get slapped by sedition charges for supporting Pakistan in cricket matches. Therefore, in light of the above it would not be wrong to say that Sedition nowadays has become the government’s convenient tool to stifle any voice or perspective that goes against what the State perceives as nationalism or patriotism.
The application of the above law has consistently moved away from how the Supreme Court has articulated that it should be applied. It has been clarified that the main condition for the act to apply is creating violence or exhibiting a clear intention to create violence to create disaffection against the state and disruption in public order. However, the actions of the state have still not been guided by this principle. Still, every time sedition is in the news, questions are asked about the justifications for using a colonial era-law in modern India.
Many countries like Australia, Indonesia, South Korea, New Zealand etc have abolished this law. The law, in these countries is seen as a tool of oppression by Governments to instil fear among its citizens by curbing free speech. It’s seen as a draconian law in many democracies old and new which is why it should be done away with.
The demand for abolition of the provision of sedition has been a big issue in India as well. Since independence, various leaders like, Mahatma Gandhi, have also viewed Section 124A as “the prince among the political sections of the IPC designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen”. Our former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru remarked the provision as “obnoxious” and “highly objectionable”, and said that “the sooner we get rid of it the better”. But, unfortunately, even after being independent for 73 years, India has failed to repeal the law on sedition as the ruling parties continue to use it as a weapon of suppressing dissent.
India has also been a recent witness to the unprecedented use of the sedition law during pandemic, when the law was used to mute voices questioning the failure of the Government and lack of preparedness while imposing lockdown, but still, the minister of state for home affairs, Shri Nityanand Rai told the Rajya Sabha that the provision was required to be retained so as to effectively combat anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements in the country. In such a case, there is a need to check this outdated law, and its efficiency at the large. It is important for one of the three organs of the state, the legislature, executive or the judiciary to narrow down and elucidate the scope of how this law is applied. Failing that, the law should strictly be repealed.