Sedition Law: Section 124A of the IPC

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    In Context

    • Recently, a Journalist was charged with Sedition by the Assam Police for allegedly promoting animosity between the Assamese and Bengali-speaking people of Assam.

    Sedition Law

    • Background:
      • Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which deals with sedition, was drafted by Thomas Babington Macaulay and included in the IPC in 1870.
    • Definition:
      • It defines Sedition as every speech or expression that “brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India”.
    • Punishments: 
      • Either Life Imprisonment to which fine may be added or Imprisonment up to 3 years, to which fine may be added. 
      • Sedition is a cognizable and non-bailable criminal offence punishable with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
      • Cognizable: The investigation process (including the powers to arrest) can be triggered merely by filing an FIR, without a judicial authority having to take cognizance.
      • Non-bailable: The accused cannot get bail as a matter of right, but is subject to the discretion of the session’s judge.

    Arguments in favour of Sedition Law

    • Helps combat anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements like Maoists, etc.
    • Protects the elected government from coups giving it stability.
    • Kedar Nath Vs State of Bihar (1962): The Court upheld the law to maintain territorial integrity but mandated acts (not just intent) of violence for its application.
    • Onus on the judiciary to protect Articles 19 and Article 21 of the Constitution and it will ensure that the law is not misused.
    • Sovereign countries, including the US, the UK, Canada, & other democracies, have such provisions in their penal code.
    • NCRB: Few cases actually result in a conviction.

    Arguments against Sedition Law

    • Mahatma Gandhi called Section 124A “the prince among the political sections of the IPC designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen”.
    •  Jawaharlal Nehru said that the provision was “obnoxious” and “highly objectionable”, and “the sooner we get rid of it the better”.
    • Constraint on the legitimate exercise of Freedom of speech and expression (Art 19).
    • The British, who introduced sedition law, have themselves abolished it in their country. 
    • Misused as a tool to persecute political dissent.

    Famous sedition trials during the freedom movement

    • JC Bose in 1891: Wrote an article criticizing the Age of Consent Bill for posing a threat to the religion.
    • Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi & Shankerlal Banker: Proprietor of Young India.

    Way Forward

    • Law Commission: An expression of frustration or positive criticism over the state of affairs cannot be treated as sedition”.
    • To protect national integrity, Section 124A should stay but the judiciary and police must ensure that section should not be misused as a tool to curb free speech.

    Source: TH