Misuse of Sedition law has become a matter of concern after a large number of sedition cases have been filed against people for protesting against the CAA.

What is Sedition law and what does it say in the Indian Penal Code?

  • The law was originally drafted by Thomas Macaulay. It was introduced in the IPC in 1870 to deal with "increasing anti-British Wahabi activities

Section 124A of the IPC defines sedition. It makes some kinds of speech or expression a criminal offence punishable with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The Sedition law can be applied if the speeches or expressions 

  • Bring or attempt to bring into hatred or contempt, or 
  • Excite or attempt to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India.

It is classified as “cognisable” — the investigation process (including the powers to arrest) can be triggered merely by filing an FIR, without a judicial authority having to take cognisance.

It is also qualified as “non-bailable” — the accused cannot get bail as a matter of right, but is subject to the discretion of the sessions judge.

NCRB Data related to Sedition cases reported

  • Total of 194 cases of sedition has been filed since the CAA was passed. 
  • More no cases of sedition have been filed since the CAA was passed. then in the last three years put together. 
  • The number of sedition cases filed has been going up every year in the last four years But only four cases actually resulted in a conviction.

Criticisms of the sedition law

  • Lacunas in the law: According to Law Commission of India, is that the definition of sedition does not take into consideration disaffection towards (a) the Constitution, (b) the legislatures, and (c) administration of justice, all of which would be as disastrous to the security of the State as disaffection towards the executive Government.
  • These cases are often invoked against show-piece dissenters by the government so that the rest fall in line.
  • Misuse by local police and local leaders: It has become a useful tool in the hands of the local policemen who can first register a case. It has also been misused by the local leader or the head of some faction who wants to shut down a particular dissenter in the locality.
  • Low conviction rate: Most cases that are filed would not end in a conviction if Section 124A, as according to guidelines of SC it should not be applied when the speech complained about does not result in any actual incitement to violence whatsoever.
  • Colonial Past: Sedition is an offence which existed in our Indian Penal Code (IPC) before we got Independence because the colonial master wished to penalise anybody who was trying to overthrow the state. But in independent India, this provision is being used to bully and terrorise citizens.
  • Past experiences of keeping a harsh law: The point is that if you keep a harsh law on the statute book, there will be misused. This has been on the statute book for more than 100 years. Experience has shown that it has led to great abuse. 

Way ahead

  • There is a need for the judiciary to set up a search committee in every State, and a particular judge of the High Court has to suo moto check each sedition case being filed and if it has been used to only terrorise the ordinary citizen expressing his views, it must be quashed without putting the onus on the citizen to come to the court.
  • Section 124A should be invoked only in cases where the intention behind any act is to disrupt public order or to overthrow the Government with violence and illegal means.
  • Sedition law needs to be retained to effectively combat anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements.

SC guidelines in sedition cases

In Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar (1962)

  • The SC upheld the law on the basis that this power was required by the state to protect itself.
  • But it placed some conditions for its applications. These conditions are:
    • Mere words and phrases by themselves, no matter how distasteful, do not amount to a criminal offence unless it is being used to incite mobs or crowds to violent action. 

Therefore, incitement to violence is the essential ingredient of the offence of sedition (emphasis added).

In Balwant Singh v State of Punjab (1995), 

  • The Supreme Court acquitted persons from charges of sedition for shouting slogans such as “Khalistan Zindabaad” outside a cinema after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. 

The Court held that mere sloganeering which evoked no public response did not amount to sedition.

Also readA Critical Analysis Of Sedition Law In India

The Sedition Law And Its Validity