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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Since its beginning during colonial times, the law on Sedition has drawn criticism.
  • Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code provides provisions relating to the offence of sedition.
  • The core of the offence is that the accused must bring or attempt to bring hatred or contempt towards the Government by his words, signs or visible representations.

INTRODUCTION

The offence of Sedition is punished under Section 124A of the IPC. However, the Section does not provide a specific definition of the term "sedition”. Initially, the crime of sedition was regarded to be committed against the 'Crown' and its people, with the former considered to be the highest power and the latter required to demonstrate their devotion by remaining loyal to the former. But this was before the country's independence. Following independence, power is now drawn from the constitution. There is a distinction between 'lawful government' and 'chosen representatives,' and therefore the act of sedition endangers the existence of the State.

SECTION 124-A OF THE INDIAN PENAL CODE

Sedition is a crime against the state that promotes hate or ill will toward the government. Sedition is defined under Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code 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 disaffection towards, the Govt. established by law, shall be punished, with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”

The following are the elements for the offence of sedition: -

  1. First and foremost, the words should be delivered audibly, written down, or demonstrated through movements or signals.
  2. It should arouse hostility, contempt, disaffection, or animosity towards the government in the broad population.
  3. Persons who inflict violence or inspire others to commit violence are critical components of seditious action. It is possible to conduct sedition if you seek to invite others to insult or oppose the government in any way via actions of public disruption or violent protests.

Challenges to Constitutional Validity of Section 124A, IPC

Kedarnath Das v. the State of Bihar (1962 AIR 955)

In this case, the constitutional validity of Section 124A, IPC was challenged for the first time before the Hon’ble Supreme Court. The court ruled that activities having the purpose or inclination to cause disruption or disturbance of law and order, or the instigation of violence, must be prohibited under Section 124A, IPC. However, if this part is applied arbitrarily, then Article 19 would be violated.

Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha v. Union of India [W.P. (Crl) 106 of 2021]

Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha and Kanhaiya Lal Shukla, two journalists in India, had been charged with sedition in connection with social media postings and drawings. They filed a writ case challenging the constitutional legality of Section 124A, which criminalizes and punishes sedition.

It was argued that the decision in the Kedar Nath casemust be reconsidered. In response, a three-judge Supreme Court bench composed of Justices UU Lalit, Indira Banerjee, and KM Joseph issued a notice to the Government.

The petition claimed that the precedent established in the Kedar Nath Singh casewas no longer applicable. Because of the socioeconomic conditions in 1962, appropriate restrictions of the type outlined in Section 124A may have been warranted. But, since then, new laws governing safety, security, and public order have been enacted, rendering Section 124A obsolete.

The petitioners also stated that the ambiguity of the provision allowed for arbitrary execution and abuse. This was inconsistent with the liberties guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a).

The first intervenor was Mr Sashi Kumar, a famous journalist who claimed that the vague wording of Section 124A had been misapplied to classify criticism of the government as sedition. He maintained, using the Constituent Assembly and early Parliamentary Debates, that the intent of the sedition act was not to punish dissent.

The second intervenor, legal academic Dr Sanjay Jain, offered an overview of sedition laws in other countries to help the Court analyse the statute in light of contemporary developments. He said that since Section 124A was enacted by a colonial power to repress anti-colonial movements, it had to be reconsidered.

The Foundation for Media Professionals, the third intervenor, cited similar concerns questioning the provision’s pre-constitutional status.

The Supreme Court is yet to consider whether Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, which criminalizes sedition, is unconstitutional.

Vinod Dua v. the Union of India [Writ Petition (Crl.) No. 154 of 2020]

In this case, Mr Vinod Duaallegedly made unproven and strange charges against India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the government in his YouTube show. Mr Vinod Dua, according to the F.I.R. registered against him, generated terror among the population by making such false allegations.

On June 3, 2021, a bench of Justices UU Lalit and Vineet Saran of the Supreme Court of India dismissed the FIR filed against journalist Vinod Dua for his YouTube presentation about communal rioting in Delhi, upholding citizens' freedom to criticise the government.

SC’S OBSERVATION

Sections 124A and 505 of the IPC must be used only where the remarks or phrases have a poisonous propensity or purpose to cause a public commotion or disruption of law and order.

The Hon’ble SC observed that the petitioner did claim that India's airstrikes on Balakot, Pathankot, and Pulwama were used as political events to garner votes, but no claims against the Prime Minister were made, as stated in the F.I.R. But, if Dua made certain remarks on his talk show before the matter was taken up by the Supreme Court, then he would be within his rights to claim that as a journalist.

CONCLUSION

Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, was enacted to subdue and remove the remaining forms of resistance in society. Such a proclivity contradicts the inherent principles of democracy. The existence of such a provision in a modern country like India looks to be superfluous. The clause is severe because of the severity of the punishment. The continuance of such a provision inhibits freedom of speech and expression, which is presumably a basic right protected by Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. To keep up with the changing demands of society, India's sedition laws must adapt and alter.


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