LAW OF SEDITION – SECTION 124 of IPC
In the recent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens in different states, numerous protesters were booked under the Law of Sedition. Hundreds of cases of Sedition against Anti CAA protestors were registered in Uttar Pradesh. The British made law is the part of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and has been exercised several times to detain persons associated with seditious activities.
The section 124A of IPC reads, “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 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.”
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF THIS LAW
It is a British Law that came up in the 17th century. It was not a part of the original draft of IPC but was later incorporated in 1870 after the Wahabi movement. It is famous for being used against Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1897 for the first time and was immensely against many freedom fighters
The law has stood against several cases that have challenged its constitutionality
- Kedarnath Singh vs. Bihar state
Section 124A was ruled unconstitutional in 1951, by the Punjab High Court. A Constitution Bench affirmed the validity of the Law in 1962, in Kedarnath Singh vs. Bihar state. The judgment dealt with whether the law on sedition is compatible with the fundamental right provided in Article 19(1)(a) which guarantees the freedom of speech and expression of every individual. The Supreme Court stipulated that every person has the right, by way of criticism or statement, to say or write about the government, as long as it does not "incite citizens to violence" against the government constituted by law or with the intention of causing public disorder. The judgment upheld the constitutionality of sedition but limited its scope to "actions involving intent or propensity to cause disorder, or law and order disruption, or incitement to violence." It differentiated these from "very powerful voice" or the use of highly critical "vigorous words"
- Balwant Singh vs State of Punjab
This case was regarding raising of slogans by three men after former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated. The SC then ruled that “casual raising of slogans, once or twice by two individuals alone cannot be said to be aimed at exciting or attempt to excite hatred or disaffection by the government”.
The SC held that the word "disaffection" encompasses disloyalty and all feelings of enmity. Statements expressing criticism of the Government's policies in order to obtain their modification by legal means, without exciting or attempting to excite an offense under this clause. Comments expressing disapproval of the Government's administrative or other behavior without stimulating or seeking to arouse hate, disdain or disaffection, are not an offense under this clause.
- A tool to harass dissenters and satisfy political motives?
In the past two years, more than 10,000 tribal farmers in Jharkhand were accused of sedition in 19 police cases for opposing acquisition of lands for so-called developmental projects. In 2012-2013, sedition law was slapped on thousands of people protesting against Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu. Rights activists say the law has been used to suppress dissent in India particularly against marginalized communities and minorities. Almost every regime has used it against dissenters.
Sedition is a non-bailable offense. Courts view sedition as a serious offense, making it harder for the accused to secure bail, even if booked only for a speech offense. The process of a long-drawn trial then becomes the punishment. This argument is bolstered by the criminal report data.
The number of sedition cases nearly doubled between 2015 and 2018, according to National Crime Record Bureau data. Between 2016 and 2018, 332 people were arrested under the sedition provision, but only seven were convicted. Lawyers point out that the problem is not the conviction, but opposition to the government is termed “anti-national”, making it easier for the police to make arrests citing any protests as a threat to national security.
- Will the law be scrapped?
Though activists have called for the abolition of section 124(A) of the Indian Penal Code dealing with sedition, the government has made it clear in Parliament that it will not take any measures to abolition the statute, saying it is appropriate to "effectively counter anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements."
“There's no proposal to scrap the clause of sedition under the IPC.” Minister of State Nityanand Rai, in a written reply in Rajya Sabha in July 2019, stated the need to maintain the provision to effectively combat anti-national, secessionist, and terrorist elements. The law has helped counter secessionist agitation and other ANTI NATIONAL propaganda.