Sedition and the government

Delhi Law Academy Uncategorized

Although sedition was originally a part of the IPC, as drafted by Thomas Macaulay, it was bizarrely dropped from the law when it was enacted in 1860. A decade later, the offence was introduced into the IPC as Section 124-A.

The provision defines sedition as any action — whether by words, signs or visible representation — which “brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India”. Tellingly, the section also contains a clarification to the effect that the word “disaffection” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.

First amendment to the Constitution was introduced to include public order as a specific limitation to free speech. In 1962, the Supreme Court upheld Section 124-A, in Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar. Here, the court adopted the premise that the law was enacted in the interest of public order, which was by then one of the specifically recognised limitations to free speech.

Last year, in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, in declaring unconstitutional Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, the court ruled that speech howsoever offensive, annoying or inconvenient cannot be prosecuted unless its utterance has, at the least, a proximate connection with any incitement to disrupt public order.

That words which directly provoke violence or which directly threaten the maintenance of public order deserve censure is unquestionable. But the offence of sedition at its core, is a devastating provision that is meant to assist in crushing all opposition to the ruling dispensation. Section 124-A of the IPC negates the right to dissent, which is an essential condition of any reasonable government.