What Is the Sedition Law? And Is It Good or Bad?
What is the Sedition law and is it good or bad? Well, that depends on the kind of freedom you want.
Creative Producer: Kunal Mehra
(This story was originally published on 6 November 2020 and has been reposted from The Quint's archives on 11 May 2022 in light of the Supreme Court hearing on the sedition law.)
Actor Kangana Ranaut and her sister Rangoli Chandel were granted interim protection by the Bombay High Court on Wednesday, 25 November, in a case filed by the Mumbai Police over allegedly hateful tweets. The Bombay High Court observed: "It has become a trend to add 124-A IPC (sedition) in the complaint. What is the need? Are we treating our citizens like this?"
So, what is Section 124-A of the IPC? Also known as the Sedition Law, it is more than 150 years old in India, though it has been abolished in the country that it originated from – the United Kingdom.
It's a law that was extensively used by the British in pre-Independent India, to squash several freedom movements; Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak were among the prominent leaders who went to jail, under this law.
So, is the Sedition law good or bad? We can't tell you that, but here is a brief history of the law to help you decide.
Mahatma Gandhi, in 1922, was charged with Sedition by the British government for "bringing or attempting to excite disaffection towards the government". While pleading guilty to all charges, Gandhi famously said, "Section 124A, under which I am happily charged, is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the IPC designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen".
Post Independence, when the Right to Freedom was being discussed, the use of the word seditious, under reasonable restrictions, was widely debated, and eventually dropped from the Indian Constitution. But it still exists in the Indian Penal Code.
So, Is the Sedition Law Good Or Bad?
We can't tell you that, but we can tell you what the courts have said. The Supreme Court, in 1962, upheld the conviction of Kedar Nath Singh in Kedar Nath Singh vs the State of Bihar.
Kedar Nath was convicted of sedition, by the high court, for making fiery speeches against the government. Upholding the conviction, the Supreme Court said that the words spoken by Kedar Nath were aimed at creating disorder by violent means.
But added 'that just arousing bad feelings against the government or writing strong criticism of the government CANNOT be considered seditious'.
So, Should the Sedition Law Be Repealed?
We can't tell you that, but we can tell you that the debate over whether the Sedition Law has a place in a democracy has been raging for a long time.
A 2019, a NCRB report shows that there has been a sharp increase in the number of sedition cases registered in the last three years, though the conviction rate remains low.
And therein lies the whole issue with the law. The conviction rate is low because it is hard to prove that a speech or a statement was made with the intention of inciting violence against the State.
But till it gets proven, the battle for those who are accused of it is long-drawn and tiring.
It seems like the law works on the principle of "guilty till proven innocent" rather than the other way round.
The question then really is – What is it about freedom of speech and expression that we are so afraid of?
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