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  • Writer's pictureLAWGIC STRATUM


Author:Vydurya Selvi. B


‘Criticism is not Sedition’, - Supreme Court stated in the 1962 ruling.

But, whenever people react against the government, question politicians, act against immorality or police order, for their integrity and protection, they are booked under sedition and their democratic right to freedom of speech and expression is withdrawn from them. Sedition is now being used as a government’s weapon to choke any protest by its people. The lawmakers did not intend to bring sedition laws to restrict the rights of people, it was brought to control the hatred and enmity towards one’s country. The constitutional validity of the sedition laws in India is discussed in this paper.

History of Sedition Law

The British Government did not want to give an Independent India to her citizens. They always wanted Indians to be their bondsman. This made them bring a law to oppress the emotions of people towards freedom and individuality. Hence, they brought up the sedition laws, which controlled the acts against the government in totality. When the Indian Penal Code was drafted by Thomas Macauley in 1837, Sedition was placed under Section 113. Later it was omitted and readded through an amendment made by Sir James Stephen in 1870. It was kept under the section ‘Exciting Disaffection’ by the British Government. The amendments to Indian Penal Code 1870, in 1898, brought sedition under Section 124A of the code, only with minor changes and omissions.

Sedition :

Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code deals with Sedition. ‘Sedition’ means actions or words of people against the government, as a symbol of dissatisfaction towards their ruling power. Sedition is a comprehensive term, it includes all the acts, deeds and words which disturb the tranquility of the State and make the ignorant act under the law. In layman’s terms, sedition can be described as an act or attempt of contempt towards the Government of India which brings a tendency for people to start a rebellion as a result of disloyalty towards the government. Punishment is either imprisonment for a term of 3 years which can be extended to life imprisonment or fine or both. Accused is also barred from a government job.

To constitute an offence under sedition, it is not necessary to envenom others, it would be sufficient that one tried to excite hatred feelings towards the Government. This offence is cognizable, but a warrant may be issued, it is also both non-bailable and non-compoundable. The offence is triable in the Court of Session.

Essential Ingredients of Sedition

1. There should be an unlawful display of dissatisfaction with the government or with the existing order of the society.

2. The conduct may be through words, by deed, or by writing or through pictures, or any other form of visible representation.

The definition of sedition includes the term ‘the Government established by law’, which means the Government, for the time being, i.e., a visible symbol of State[1]. The very existence of the State will be in jeopardy if the Government established by law is subverted. It should be noted that the disaffection towards ‘the Government established by law’ does not include the criticism of various parties in bringing down a particular Government.

Explanations 2 and 3 of the Section, deals with expressing disapprobation. It explains what cannot be included in the Section. If a comment is to bring good to the public at large andan attempt to bring change in various policies of the government, will be a disapproval towards the government, but that is not considered as sedition. The inclusion of these explanations is to protect the fundamental rights given to the citizens by the Constitution of India, 1950. It is to deliberately show that the people can always express their notions on the state and its policies.

Freedom of Speech and Expression

But sedition is one ground for reasonable restriction for Article 19(1)(a), theRight to Freedom of Speech and Expression. A right always comes with a restriction, a person shall have a limit of words and expression and shall not be allowed to defame any person, public order, and integrity of the nation under Article 19(2). Any person who has crossed the borders of his right i.e., intend to create violence or hatred, through words, advertisements, books, newspaper articles, or through slogans, etc.can be punished under Sedition.

Constitutional validity of Sedition

The Indian National Leaders were arrested on charges of sedition before independence. The editors of National Newspapers were also accused of sedition when they stood up against the government. In Queen Empress v. Jogendra Chandra Bose[2], the editor was convicted for criticizing the Age of Consent Bill, 1891. His act was considered to be ‘disobedience towards the Government’. In Queen Empress v. Bal Gangadhar Tilak[3], the Indian leader was convicted for 18 months of rigorous imprisonment under sedition by the Privy Council for criticizing the annual celebrations of Shivaji’s coronation. He was also punished for a similar act in 1908 for six years of imprisonment in Burma. In re Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi v. Unknown, Gandhiji, editor and the publisher of the newspaper were accused of sedition. They were imprisoned for six years. Mahatma Gandhi termed Section 124A as ‘Prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen’.

Only after the fundamental rights of the people gained momentum, the question of the constitutional validity of Sedition came into operation. The Code was challenged as being violative of the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a).

For the first time, the constitutional validity of sedition was put to scrutiny in Tara Singh Gopi Chand v. State [4], the Court declared that the provision is ultra vires to the Constitution and curtails the freedom of speech and expression, and Section 124A has no place in the new democratic pattern of policy adopted by India. A similar decision was given in Ram Nandan v. State of Uttar Pradesh[5].

In 1950, Ramesh Thappar v. State of Madras[6]and in Brij Bhushan v. The State of Delhi[7], the Apex Court held that a law that restricts speech on the ground that it would disturb public order was unconstitutional. The Court also, through the First Constitutional Amendment under Article 19, the term ‘undermining the security of the state’ was replaced with ‘in the interest of public order’.

In a landmark judgment, Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar[8], the Court held that Section 124A is not unconstitutional and it does not violate the fundamental rights. Under the explanations to the section, it is clear that criticism of public measures or comments must be within reasonable limits and must be within the ambit ofthe fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression. So, the right is not violated and hence the section is constitutionally valid.


The provision for Sedition under the Indian Penal Code steps in only when words or actions have the inimical tendency,an intention to create public disorder or disturbance of law and order. Strict punishments are given to prevent and protect the Government from anti-national elements. Since, Section 124 A has been declared constitutionally valid, there is no need for the abolition of the same. Even though the section slightly overrides the fundamental idea of democracy, it brings more stability to a Country. At the same time government using sedition as a weapon against the citizens who are fighting for a good cause, is dreadful.


[1] Dr. S. R. Myneni, Law of Crimes, 2nd Edition, Asia Law House

[2] Sedition law -

[3] Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar -

[1]Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar, AIR 1962 SC 955 [2](1892) ILR 19 Cal 35 [3]ILR 22 Bom 112 [4]AIR 1951 East Punjab 27 [5]AIR 1959 All 101 [6]1950 SCR 594 [7]1950 AIR 129 [8]AIR 1962 SC 955

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