In India, you can be charged with sedition for liking a Facebook postcriticising a yoga gurucheering a rival cricket teamdrawing cartoonsasking a provocative question in a university exam, or not standing up in a cinema when the national anthem is being played.

Introduction

As we know that most of the laws as prevailing in India are the gifts from the British to us, sedition law is one such law. The sedition law was introduced as an offence through clause 113 of the Draft Indian Penal Code by Thomas Macaulay in the year 1837.

The reason for its incorporation in the draft was the increase in rebel by the Indian revolutionaries against the company rulers. The British seeing that the Indians were spreading hatred against them felt the need of a law which can suppress their rebel. As a result, the law of Sedition was introduced in the draft of Indian Penal Code. However, the Law of Sedition was not present in the original Indian Penal Code of 1860.

It was in 1870 when due to rising rebels and unrest, the British government amended the Indian Penal Code and inserted Sec 124A. So we can say that the Law of Sedition took birth in 1870 in India.

The Sedition law wasn’t the only law which was passed by the British government to suppress the voices of Indian revolutionaries. Other laws such as the Vernacular Press Act, 1878, [repealed in 1881], the Newspapers (Incitement of Offences) Act, 1908, and the Indian Press Act, 1910 [repealed in 1921] – gave legal backing to the British government to restrict voices that went against it.

British colonial era laws continue to have relevancy in the legal systems of India and Pakistan.  Ironically, a sedition law used by the British colonial government to suppress nationalist dissent in the subcontinent during the 19th and early 20th centuries is being applied today to curtail what some critics feel are reasonable criticisms of the government.  In addition, the United Kingdom abolished its own sedition law in 2010.

Law of Sedition is against the Human rights Activists, journalist and public intellectuals in the country.  According to one view, the statutory offence of Sedition in India is different from the common Law Offence of Sedition as much as it seeks to punish all types of bad feelings, and unlike English Law that fails to prescribe what has been described as an external standard for the purpose of measuring the nature and quality of bad feelings. It punishes not only any positive expression of Dissatisfaction, but all subjective feelings of enmity in one and attempts to cause disloyalty or enmity in others also.

Decided Cases In Pre Independence In India Related To Sedition:

 

  1. The Bangobasi Case 1891:

The first trial on record for Sedition was Queen Empress v. Jogendra chander Bose and others, more commonly known as the Bangobasi case of 1891, which brought up the question of limits of legitimate criticism against the official measures. The Bangobasi a newspaper edited by jogendra Chandra, while reacting to the passage of the age of consent bill (1891), raised the cry of ‘religion in danger’ and charged the Government for Europeanizing India by brute force and held it responsible for the economic deprivation of Indians. However it also stated that Hindu neither believed in rebellion nor were they capable of it.

The judge ‘thought that attempted to hold it up to the hatred and contempt of the people.’ In meanwhile, the accused tendered an apology and the proceedings were dropped. In 1891 unlike the earlier period, the official attitude showed that it was increasingly becoming intolerant of the slightest criticism not just of British rule but of minor measures as well.

  1. The Pratod Case 1897:

The pratod case concerned with newspaper from Islampur in satara district that published an Article titled “Preparation for becoming independent” in 27 may 1897. The Article described Canadian nationalist resistance to colonial exploitation and the manner by which Canadian acquired political democratic rights and urged the Indians to follow the suit.

When the case came up on appeal to the high court before the full bench, it was unanimously held that the animus was to excite a feeling of aversion and hatred against the Government.

The conviction of both the accused was confirmed but the sentence was found to be Disproportionate to the Gravity of the Offence and was reduced to one year’s and three months simple imprisonment respectively. The case gives an idea of how in the altered political conditions Law could be powerfully used for terrorizing the people.

  1. Bal Gangadhar Tilak Trial In 1897:

The facts of the case that Government claimed that some of the speeches that referred to Shivaji Killing Afzal khan, had instigated the murder of the much reviled plague commissioner rand and another British officer lieutenant Ayherst, which occurred a week later.

The federal court had in defining Sedition in the Niharendu Dutt Majumdar case held that in order to constitute Sedition, “the Acts or words complained of must either incite to disorder or must be such as to satisfy a reasonable man that is their intention or tendency”. But the privy council in the Sadashiv case overruled that decision and emphatically reaffirmed the view expressed in Tilak’s case to the effects that’ the Offence consisted in exciting or attempting to excite mutiny or rebellion, or any sort of Actual disturbance, great or small. In Bal Ganga Dhar Tilak it was observed by the court that disaffection is a positive feeling of aversion which is akin to disloyalty, a defiant insubordination of authority, or when, it is not defiant makes men indisposed to obey or support the Laws of the realm, and promote discontent and public disorder.

  1. Different Perceptions Of The Bureaucracy: The Kal Case:

The prosecution under Section 124-A and 153-A required a prior sanction of the Government of India. This was done more as a safeguard against possible abuse. Most of the cases referred by the Bombay Government were negative by the Government of India, on the ground that legal opinion was not hopeful of a conviction in the court.

  1. Queen-Empress V. Amba Prasad 1897:

In the case Amba Prasad has pleaded guilty to an attempt by court for the publication of the Article in question in the issues of his Newspaper of the 14 th of July 1897, to excite feelings of disaffection to the Government established by Law in British India.

The court of session of Moradabad found guilty Amba Prasad guilty of the Offence of which he had pleaded guilty and under Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code sentenced him therefore to eighteen months rigorous imprisonment.

  1. Annie Besant Case 1916:

Annie Besant was involved in cases related to the freedom of the press decided by the madras high court. She herself had to fight state oppression of the media

  1. Sedition Trial Of Gandhi – 1922:

The most famous Sedition Trail after Tilak’s case was the trial of Mohandas Gandhi in 1922. Gandhi was charged, along with Shanker banker, the proprietor of young India for three Articles published in the magazine.
Judge strongman, in remarkably respectful response, acknowledges the nature of Gandhi and his commitment to Non-violence but says he is bound by the Law to hold him guilty of Sedition, and sentences him to six years imprisonment.

  1. Niharendu Dutt’s Case 1942:

The so called ‘broad interpretation of the meaning of Sedition in the Indian Penal Code was, as has been stated earlier the prevailing views in Indian courts. This trend continued till the landmark Judgment of the federal court of Indian in 1942 in Niharendu v. Emperor. The speech upbraided the Government for the alleged misuse of police forces and the governor for not fulfilling his responsibilities.

According to the court the gist of the Offence was public disorder, or the reasonable anticipation or likelihood of public disorder, or must be of such intensity as to satisfy a reasonable man that there was the intention or tendency.

  1. King Emperor V. Sadashiv Narayan Case 1943:

The subject matter of the charge was a document published and distributed by the accused in Jalgaon on January 23 rd, 1943.
. According to the committee the federal court had proceeded on a mistaken construction of the Sedition and had disagreed previous decision of the Privy Council by which it was bound. The Judgment of Strachey, J in Bal Ganga Dhar Tilak was cited with approval and it was reiterated that incitement to violence was not a necessary ingredient of the Offence of Sedition.

  1. Sedition Trial Of Sheikh Abdullah 1946:

The trial of sheikh Abdullah in 1946 by the Raja Hari Singh in Kashmir is another example of the use of Sedition Laws before independence to muzzle political opinion, he questioned the manner in which Kashmir had been ‘bought’ from the British by Raja Gulab Singh through the infamous treaty of Amritsar of 1846. .Abdullah also delivered a series of speeches at the time linking these to the ‘Quit India’ movement. Hari Singh had Abdullah arrested as he was making his way to New Delhi and but was convicted by the court.

 

Cases After Independence In India Related To Sedition:

 

  1. Godman Rampal Slapped With Sedition Charges 2014:

In the wake of armed resistance by Ram pal’s supporters, Police has slapped Sedition and other charges against the controversial ‘Godman’ and several of his followers that include officials of his Satlok Ashram.

Ram pal in contempt of court case, after which authorities have been asking the devotees in and around the Satlok Ashram to disperse and help them comply with court order.

  1. Trs Mp K.Kavitha Booked For Sedition For Saying J&K And Telangana Forcefully Annexed To India 2014:

The complainant in the petition alleged that Kavitha, in an interview, had made observations that Jammu and Kashmir and Telangana were not part of India earlier. The police official said legal opinion is being sought on the matter for further Action.

 

  1. Bjp Against Withdrawal Of Sedition Charges Against Kashmiri Students 2014 :

BJP today criticised Uttar Pradesh Government for withdrawing Sedition charges against Kashmiri students studying at a private university here, saying the SP Government is only bothered about vote bank.

Yesterday, the Uttar Pradesh police slapped Sedition charges against the students, a move that was slammed by Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who called the Action an “unacceptably harsh punishment” and spoke to UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav in this regard.

The Sedition charges against the students were withdrawn were withdrawn later.

  1. Kashmiri Students Booked For Sedition For Cheering Pakistan Team 2014:

Around 60 Kashmiri college students studying in Meerut were today charged with Sedition by Uttar Pradesh police for cheering Pakistan’s victory against India during a recent cricket match, an Action that sparked an outrage in Kashmir Valley.

  1. Plea For F.I.R Against Arvind Kejriwal, Baba Ramdev And Prashant Bhushan Dismissed:

Three pleas for registration of FIRs against Activist Arvind Kejriwal, yoga guru Baba Ramdev and noted Lawyer Prashant Bhushan for their alleged remarks against Parliamentarians and supporting plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir respectively were dismissed today by a court here. Metropolitan Magistrate Purshotam Pathak dismissed all the three complaints seeking directions to the Delhi Police to book Kejriwal, Ramdev and Bhushan on charges of Sedition.

  1. Sedition Case Against Hurriyat Leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani And Writer Arundhati Roy 2010:

Syed Ali shah Geelani openly spoke against India and gave a call for secession, demanding Azadi from India while Arundhati Roy reportedly endorsed the demand for azadi for Kashmir. At the same time she advised the kashmiri not to be selective about justice and think about the travails of the kashmiri pundits.
The union home ministry had sought legal opinion on the issue which suggested that a case could be made out under Sedition charge. However after taking political opinion the ministry decided not to file any case against Geelani and Roy.

  

  1. Aseem Trivedi Case On Sedition 2012:

He faced the serious allegations of insulting national emblem, parliament, flag and Constitution through his anti corruption cartoons. A case of Sedition filed against him in Beed district court Maharashtra.

Aseem Trivedi was arrested in Mumbai on 9 September 2012 on charges of Sedition, related to the content of his work.

 

Current Position:

Even after different interpretations by the courts, India is one of the few countries where there is an outdated law on sedition and the provisions related to the sedition needs to be amended. Still today in this democracy country the Section 124-A continues to be used in irrespective of whether the alleged seditious act or words constitute the tendency to cause incitement to violence and cause public disorder. Further it is demanded by various sections of the society that under the India Penal Code there are certain sections relating to the law of sedition which must be removed and need amendment.

However as per the today’s environment is being concerned and the law of sedition is being highlighted the sedition which is being charged merely on words spoken or written should be avoided because there lies certain gaps and grey area and the law regarding this needs to be amended so as to fulfil these gaps and a clear line is being drawn. Thus these laws are necessary to be implemented in the country like India where there are so many defensive forces which are being acting. Hence the need for such law is to remove such activities that promote violence and public disorder.

 

Conclusion:

Further it is concluded that the world largest democracy has shown more liberal attitude towards safeguarding the freedom of speech and expression as enshrined in the constitution in its provision under Section 124-A, Indian Penal Code 1860. The object behind this stands diluted anyway because of the interpretation of various judicial decisions in cases invoking the law, restrictions etc. the recent controversies in India have sparked out the most contentious political debate that whether section 124 of the Indian penal code should be abolished or retained.  Thus, words and speech can be criminalized and punished only in situations where it is being used to incite mobs or crowds to violent action. Mere words and phrases by themselves, no matter how distasteful, do not amount to a criminal offence unless this condition is met.

 

References:

  1. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-37182206
  2. https://www.lawteacher.net/free-law-essays/administrative-law/sedition-law-and-indian-democracy-administrative-law-essay.php
  3. http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/143397/11/11_chapter%205.pdf
  4. https://www.nls.ac.in/resources/csseip/Files/SeditionLaws_cover_Final.pdf
  5. Image Source : The Logical Indian