Every citizen has the right to Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. But this right to Freedom of Speech and Expression is not absolute. The restrictions are imposed under Article 19(2). Another exception to this right is the law of sedition under criminal law. The law of Sedition criminalizes any speech which shows disloyalty and threatens the State or Government.
Originally Sedition law was, enacted in England in the 17th century. At that time lawmakers believe that the only good opinion shall prevail as bad opinions are against the monarchy. In India Thomas Macaulay introduced this provision in the original draft of IPC in 1837. But at the time of the enactment of IPC in 1860, this law was omitted. In 1870 this law was inserted and borrowed under Criminal law by James Stephens.
In 1897 the law of sedition was first used against “Bal Gangadhar Tilak”. In 1908, on his conviction, he said, “The Government has made India a prison and we Indians are prisoners”.
In the constituent assembly, the voice was raised twice to include sedition as a ground to restrict Freedom of Speech and Expression. The Supreme Court of India mentions these debates of the constituent assembly in two judgments in 1950. The judgments “Brijbhusan vs State of Delhi” & Romesh Thappar vs State of Madras, paved the way to the first constitutional amendment. This first constitutional amendment in 1951, led the rewriting of Article 19(2).
WHAT IS SEDITION
What constitutes sedition is a matter of debate nowadays. But according to Section 124-A of IPC, it means-
- Any word, written or spoken or signs or visible representation
- That excites or brings or attempts to bring or excite, hatred, contempt or disaffection, against the Indian Government
- It must cause imminent violence and public disorder.
- Disaffection includes – Disloyalty, feeling of enmity
CONSTITUTIONALITY OF SEDITION
In the 1950’s the court witnessed three important cases relating to sedition law. Cases are Tara Singh Gopichand vs State, Shabir Raza vs The State, Ram Nandan vs State. In the case of Tara Singh & Shabir Raza, the court states that the law of sedition under criminal law has become void after the enforcement of the Constitution of India.
The case of Ram Nandan decides the constitutional validity of this law of sedition. The Allahabad High Court held section 124-A of IPC against the right to Freedom of Speech & Expression under Article 19(1) of the constitution. The court struck down it from the very roots.
But Supreme Court in 1962 overrules this judgment of Allahabad High Court in the case of Kedarnath vs State of Bihar. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of section 124-A. But the Court limits its scope to “acts involving intention or tendency to create disorder or disturbance of law and order or incitement of violence”. The court observes that the words “in the interest of and Public order” inserted in 1951 in Article 19(2) are restrictions on freedom of speech and expression. These words have wider connotations and shall be interpreted to include Section 124-A. The restrictions on Freedom of speech and expression are based on 1) Security of State 2) friendly relations with State 3) public order 4) decency and morality. Section 124-A falls under the first clause i.e. Security of State. However arbitrary use of this provision is not permissible.
So, criticizing the government is not sedition and the political parties are misusing and misinterpreting this provision to fulfill their political agendas. The moment anyone criticizes the constitutional state of India, the law of sedition comes into play.
CONTROVERSY AGAINST SEDITION
The controversy is that the law of sedition is outdated now a day as it is a colonial legacy that does not suit democracy. The British country who introduced sedition to suppress the Indians, have themselves abolished this law. So, there is no reason to keep this law in law books. It is an obstruction in enjoying the right to Freedom of Speech & Expression. The right to criticize, question, and change the ruler is the basic idea of democracy. This law is now being misused to prosecute those who criticize the Government policies. In 1979, India ratified the Convention on Civil and Political Rights. This convention sets the international standard for the protection of freedom of expression. By misusing it, India is contravening its International convention too.