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Sedition: An Offence against the State


With the trial of Dr. Binayak Sen(a human right activist) who has been charged with sedition , we have come across the word “sedition”  for umpteen  times and  it is of utmost importance to let people get well acquainted with the basics of Sedition, This article  will help people keep abreast of the same. It also holds significance because in India a legal maxim is followed (IGNORNTIA  JURIS  NON EXCUSAT) (“ignorance of the Law  excuses no one”) is a legal principle holding that a person who is oblivious  of law may not escape liability and get away for violating that law merely because he or she was unacquainted  of its content. The premise of this article is to widen the domain of knowledge and to apprise the people about sedition so that they should have cognition about the speeches or writings or signs or visible representations that fall under the ambit of sedition.

Meaning of Sedition

It needs to be adverted that the word “sedition”  does not turn up anywhere in the Indian Constitution and is an offence against the state as enumerated in the IPC, in which Article 19 of the Indian Constitution holds great relevance. The contemporary discernment of sedition in India encompasses all those practices, whether by word, deed, or writing, that are reckoned to disturb the tranquility of the State and lead ignorant persons to debase the government. Chapter VI of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with “offences” against the State. Section 124A of the IPC defines Sedition as follows:- 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 in India, 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.

Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression vis-à-vis Sedition

Article 19(1)(a) of Indian Constitution says that all citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression. The right to freedom of speech and expression incorporates protection for austerely censuring existing government structures, policies, and administrative schemes, coupled with protection for suggesting and recommending the development of other system. Article 19 (2) of Indian Constitution says that, every citizen of the country  holds the  right to air his or her opinion through the printing  or the electronic media with restrictions imposed.

In a benchmark  judgment of the case Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India{ AIR 1978 SC 597.}, the Apex Court held that the freedom of speech and expression is not confined to geographical limitations and it carries with it the right of a citizen to gather information and to exchange thought with others not only in India but abroad also. The censuring of public policies in order to ameliorate the condition  or estate of the people, without instigating the  feelings of antipathy and disloyalty which results in  public disorder or the use of violence, would fall under the ambit of reasonable limits and would be consistent with the constitutionally sanctioned freedom of speech and expression.

Historical background of Law relating to Sedition in India

The controversy and altercations over the clamor regarding the imposition of the charge of sedition against Dr Binayak Sen, has accentuated the problems with this archaic sedition law. A laconic outline of the historical background of sedition law in India is significant to understand the amplitude of the law. This law was proposed in India in 1870 in riposte to increasing Wahabi activities between 1863 and 1870. It was modified in 1898, the framework of this section was taken from several sources- the Treason Felony Act (1848, Britain), the Common law of seditious libel( Libel-defamation in permanent form), and English law pertaining to seditious words.

Whoever has cognition about the India’s freedom struggle would be well acquainted of the British mistreatment of the law associated with sedition. It is uncogitable to ponder over that the British Officials tried to crush the Indian Freedom Struggle with an Iron hand and in retaliation to the protest against them some of the active instrumentalists of Indian freedom struggle were Charged with Sedition.

The first in a sequence of sedition cases against editors of national newspapers was the trial of Jogendra Chandra Bose in 1891, followed with the trial of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, he  was tried under this law (section 124A of the Indian Penal Code,).An another famous and important sedition trial was of Mahatma Gandhi, who was an advocator of passive resistance,  and  always abstained himself and his followers from adopting the violent methods was tried in 1922 along with Shankerlal Banker, the owner of Young India for the articles published in the magazine.

Important Cases relating to Sedition in India

There are several important cases of sedition,some of them have been incorporated in this article.
Kedar Nath Singh v. State Of Bihar{AIR 1962 SC 955;1962 Supp. (2) SCR 769}:- .-In this appeal the main question in controversy was whether ss. 124A and 505 of the Indian Penal Code have become void in view of the provisions of Art. 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. The speech was {“To-day the dogs of the C. I. D are loitering round Barauni. Many official dogs are sitting even in this meeting. The people of India drove out the Britishers from this country and elected these Congress goondas to the gaddi and seated them on it. To-day these Congress goondas are sitting on the gaddi due to mistake of the people. When we drove out the Britishers, we shall strike and turn out these Congress goondas as well……….}
After recording a substantial volume of oral evidence, the learned Trial Magistrate convicted the accused person both under S. 124A and 505(b) of the Indian Penal Code, and sentenced him to undergo rigorous imprisonment for one year. The convicted persons preferred an appeal to the High Court of Judicature at Patna, the Court upheld the convictions and the sentence and dismissed the appeal. Finally it was held that, Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code which makes sedition an offence is constitutionally valid. Though the section imposes restrictions on the fundamental freedom of speech and expression, the restrictions are in the interest of public order and are within the ambit of permissible legislative interference with the fundamental right.

Interested readers can go through other cases of sedition like:-
• Keho Bam Hazarika vs The Government Of Assam{1951 CriLJ 68}
• Manubhai Tribhovandas Patel And Ors. Vs State Of Gujarat And Anr{ 1972 Cri.L.J 388, (1971) GLR 968}
• Uttamrao S/O Keshavrao Patwari vs State Of Maharashtra And Anr,
• State Of Madhya Pradesh vs Baleshwardayal And Ors.{1967 CrilJ 1110}

Some Recent Cases of Sedition are:-
• Bilal Ahmed Kaloo vs State of Andhrapradesh(1997)
• Balwant Singh vs Stateeof Punjab(1995)

The need to evolve the law relating to Sedition

The present India has evolved up to a great extent as compared to the early 18th and 19th centuries. With the advent of Modern Technology and globalization the conditions have changed and most importantly the attitude of people towards the Government or ruling class has revolutionized and people can get the policies and schemes amended in order to improve their estate. As it has already been mentioned in article that The Law of Sedition was enacted in the later 1800’s and it is an overt truth that the Law on Sedition enacted by the Brtishers was to quell and oppress the Indian Freedom struggle and it was enacted in the context of a totally different kind of India.

The basic essence of the Law is to regulate the human conduct and it should grow in order to placate the needs of the people and keep abreast with the developments taking place in the country. The concerned authorities need to take a bold step in order to evolve Laws suitable to the conditions prevailing in India.

What needs to be done?

The yardstick to assess that a person has excited or attempted or desired to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection should be more clearly defined as it was held in Kedar Nath’s case that censuring or disapprobation of actions of government without exciting the aforesaid feelings not be penal and the matters where intention is or has to be inferred is also a debatable issue which requires attention and more importantly that hatred ,contempt and disaffection are the consequences of the concerned speech, writings, signs or visible representations as it is quite palpable that people might have any one of the hatred, contempt or disaffection towards the government when they get acquainted with the deformities of any action of Government through the concerned content, so this area needs to be revisited as at the present Day after more than 60 years of independence it is evident that the India as well as the Ruling authority has transposed. People should also ponder over the content before its publication with their main objective as the amelioration in the estate of the larger number of people. One acquainted with the defects of any action of government can apprise the common people about the same to get it rectified by having the support of larger number of people so that it appears a genuine demand with censuring or disapproval of actions of the State in such a way that might not result in pubic disorder.

(This article is written by Sakshat Bansal, a UG student from Chanakya National Law University, Patna.)

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