Law of sedition and status of free speech in India: Critical analysis

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Law of sedition and status of free speech in India

Written By: Nikita Mandal


Section 124 (A) of the Indian Penal Code defines “sedition” in a broader and broader language.  It states: “Anyone who, by word of mouth, either verbally or in writing, or by sign, or otherwise, attempts to incite hatred or contempt, or incites resentment against a government established by law, shall be punished with life imprisonment.

Meaning of sedition is In the general sense, sedition means incitement to revolt against the government.  Sedition includes acts and practices that seek to arouse dissatisfaction with the Constitution, its motives, to cause public unrest in the government, or parliament, or to lead to civil war, and all attempts to propagate public unrest in general.  Rex v. Adler Court defines sedition law as follows: “Nothing is clearer than law – anyone who, written or spoken by language, incites others to use physical force or commits violence in some public matter related to the state, is guilty of defamation.”

Section 124 A states that

Section 124A of the IPC, which deals with sedition, states, “Whoever, 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.”

Sedition and Freedom of Speech in India

The history of sedition law in India is found in the Indian Penal Code enacted in 1860 under the British Raj.  It was added in 1870 as an amendment to the law.  The British used this law to suppress the Wahhabi movement and imprisoned activists like Lokmanya Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi.

In 1961, the Punjab High Court ruled that sedition violated Article 19 guaranteed freedom of speech, and declared it unconstitutional.  The Allahabad High Court did the same and the matter went to the Supreme Court.  Finally, in the case of Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar, the apex court upheld the constitutional validity of Section 124A.

 Just criticizing the government or showing contempt for the work of the government is not tantamount to sedition.  In order to form sedition, it must be done with the intention of disturbing the peace of the people or the law by resorting to violence.

Article 19 (a) of the Indian Constitution provides for freedom of speech and expression.  This is a fundamental right.  This is contempt of court subject to reasonable restrictions under Article 19 (2) in respect of India’s sovereignty and integrity, state security, friendly relations with a foreign state, public order, ethics, or relations.

 One of the most important features of democracy is freedom of speech.  A democratic country is one where citizens have a choice, and the right to speak their minds.  Denying them the right to express their views will take away the essence of democracy.

 While all citizens have the right to speak freely and express their views and opinions, it must be remembered that with these rights they also have certain responsibilities as citizens of India.  A democracy can only function in its best possible way when the state and its citizens fulfill their own responsibilities.

The leaders of this nation are elected by the people.  The same people who elect those leaders and trust them or have conflicting views must be listened to.

Case Laws:

Queen Emperor V Balgangadhar Tilak

Bg Gangadhar Tilak was charged for sedition twice. In 1887: he agitated the Indian citizens to spread violence against Britishers and this was the very first time when sedition was applied. In 1990: the word disaffection towards the government was interpreted in this case, Tilak wrote an article in his newspaper KESARI on the Maratha warrior Shivaji which was declared agitating towards the government.


India is the largest democracy in the world and the right to freedom of speech and expression is an essential element of democracy. If the country is not open to positive criticism, then there will be no difference between the pre-independence and post-independence periods. Protecting national integrity is essential.  Considering the legal opinion and the government’s opinion in favor of the law, Section 124A is not likely to be repealed any time soon. Crimes against the state play an important role in controlling and maintaining public order.  The people of the state have the right to criticize the policies of the government, but the abuse of their freedom should not harm the people around them or the government.  Fighting against India and against power is a punishable offense.  The law protects high-ranking officials such as the president, the governor of each state, etc. in case of attacks against them.  Most importantly, sedition is considered the most dangerous cognizable crime against the state.  For the betterment of that state, the state must limit the freedom of the people of the country.

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