Published by: Deeptanshu Chandak
What is sedition?
Sedition is the act of insurgency or the act of destabilizing the established order. Sedition is an act of resistance against the established order. But the act must in theory be an overt act or an act of criminal or malicious intent. In its most basic essence, it is an act of incitement of an act of resistance or insurgence against the lawful authorities. It's a tool of the establishment to maintain peace and solidarity while fighting the elements of anti-nationalism and ideas of hostility against the government or the nation.
History of development
Sedition laws much like most countries date back to the colonial days of the Country, it was first adapted as a safeguard of the powers of the East India Company and the Queen's order. It was first proposed to be added as a section to the new draft of the penal code in 1837 but was accidentally dropped from it from making the final draft by mistake. Thus James Fitzjames Stephen must be accredited for the inclusion in the Indian Penal Code. It was added finally in the 1870s to protect the 'Government' against 'disaffection'. The Government then was afraid of the increased religious activism in the Indian subcontinent. The whole idea of sedition has been a method of forming curbing disaffection and contempt from the ruler and thus keeping the established order and those running it protected.
Section 124A IPC
"Whoever, by 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." This section of the Indian Penal Code allows for the government to imprison anyone who seems to excites 'disaffection' towards the democratic government in the modern-day. In its basic essence, it’s supposed to not deter comments or criticism of the established order or the government. But the same line hasn't been defined and thus leaves open the scope to interpretation. The same leaves the freedom of critics hanging in the balance.
Article 19 of the Indian Constitution enshrines the right of freedom of speech and expression to every citizen of the country. Of course, every right comes with its reasonable restrictions but the questions are whether the criminal act of sedition encroaches on the right of a citizen to openly and freely criticize the government, as it can be argued even constructive and healthy criticism can be a cause of disaffection towards the established law and order and thus it can be argued that the act of sedition encroaches the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression in Article 19.
Further Sedition is a crime of Malus Prohibitum or a crime which doesn't require or even raise the question of a guilty mind or mens rea, so it doesn't why a certain act was done or even it truly showed disaffection or threat to national stability, all it the act itself and it binds the doer with strict liability under Section 124A.
Kedar Nath Singh vs the State of Bihar
This is the landmark case of sedition as it was the first case of sedition in post-independence India when Kedar Nath Singh. A renowned politician in the state of Bihar called the ruling party politicians of congress ‘goondas’ and said they were following the footsteps of the British colonizers in the country. The case went up till the Supreme Court where they challenged the validity of the provision. But it was upheld much like the charges against him.
The case was a case of a politician making propaganda and not much more as it is seen that later that Kedar Nath Singh goes and joined the same party as which he called ‘goondas’. The act was nothing but a ruling party tiring to silence the opposition and further misusing the powers given to it. The Supreme Court upholding the decision and further the validity of this colonial law may seem like the educated move as these are educate jurors, but we later did find how the congress party has used the supreme court and its judges to mend the laws, elections and the constitution to their liking.
Sedition- A Democratic law?
Sedition law verbatim in the IPC states the act of bringing 'disaffection' towards the government. 'Disaffection' is not towards a democratic government it is towards rulers, not representatives. The section itself talks of the government as a ruler and not a representative of the people thus speaking to the kind of power the law tries to keep over the people, taking away their power to criticize their representatives.
Sedition laws all over the world can be traced back to colonial rule or to communist states both of which a not a feature of true democracy, further it has been seen that states have in turn abolished their sedition laws after the advent of democracy in their respective nations.
Sedition is not a feature of true democracy and it has been proven over time, all this law has done in the history of the nation is charge nationalist while, it claims to be a law curbing anti-nationalist behavior.
The law is rudimentary, colonial, and a violation of the basic of democracy along with being a violation of the basic structure of the constitution. To protect our fundamental rights, sedition is against freedom of expression and curbs all kinds of criticism. Sedition is not a democratic law it's a colonial law in a democratic nation.