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Use of Sedition Law Against Freedom Fighter

Use of Sedition Law Against Freedom Fighter


  • While hearing a petition challenging Section 124A of the IPC which deals with the offence of sedition, Chief Justice of India observed that the “colonial law” was used by the British to silence Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

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  • The sedition law which is enshrined in Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was introduced by the British government in 1870 to tackle dissent against colonial rule. 

    • The original draft of the IPC, which was enacted in 1860, did not consist of this law.

  • Section 124A states the following,

    • 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 a fine may be added; or,

    • With imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which a fine may be added; or, with fine.

  • In the 19th and 20th centuries, the law was used primarily to suppress the writings and speeches of prominent Indian nationalists and freedom fighters.


  • The first known instance of the application of the law was the trial of newspaper editor Jogendra Chandra Bose in 1891. 

  • Other prominent examples of the application of the law include the trials of Tilak and Gandhi.

  • Apart from this, Jawaharlal Nehru, Abul Kalam Azad and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar were also charged with sedition.

  • In 1922, Gandhi was arrested on charges of sedition in Bombay for taking part in protests against the colonial government.

    • He was sentenced to six years in prison but was released after two years because of medical reasons.

  • Before Gandhi, Tilak faced three trials in cases related to sedition and was imprisoned twice.

    • He was charged with sedition in 1897 for writing an article in his weekly publication called Kesari and was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment.

    • He was tried again in 1908 and was represented by MA Jinnah. But his application for bail was rejected and he was sentenced to six years.

    • The second time he was tried was also because of his writings, one of which referred to the murder of European women in Muzzafarpur when bombs were thrown by Bengali terrorists.

    • This is what Tilak wrote in his article,

      • “This, no doubt, will inspire many with hatred against the people belonging to the party of rebels. It is not possible to cause British rule to disappear from this country by such monstrous deeds. But rulers who exercise unrestricted power must always remember that there is also a limit to the patience of humanity.”


  • In the Kedar Nath Singh versus State of Bihar (1962) judgment, the Supreme Court had held that Section 124A was constitutional since it imposed a reasonable restriction on Article 19(1)(a).

  • The Court read down the section, holding that acts involving intention or tendency to create disorder, or disturbance of law and order, or incitement to violence would be made penal by Section 124A.


  • Seven principles in the Kedar Nath Singh ruling specify situations in which the charge of sedition cannot be applied:

  • The expression “the Government established by law’ has to be distinguished from the persons for the time being engaged in carrying on the administration. ‘Government established by law’ is the visible symbol of the State. The very existence of the State will be in jeopardy if the Government established by law is subverted.”

  • Any acts within the meaning of Section 124-A which have the effect of subverting the Government by bringing that Government into contempt or hatred, or creating disaffection against it, would be within the penal statute because the feeling of disloyalty to the Government established by law or enmity to it imports the idea of tendency to public disorder by the use of actual violence or incitement to violence.

  • Comments, however strongly worded, expressing disapprobation of actions of the Government, without exciting those feelings which generate the inclination to cause public disorder by acts of violence, would not be penal.

  • A citizen has a right to say or write whatever he likes about the Government,

    • or its measures, by way of criticism or comment,

    • so long as he does not incite people to violence against the Government established by law or

    • with the intention of creating public disorder.

  • The provisions of the Sections read as a whole, along with the explanations, make it reasonably clear that the sections aim at rendering penal only such activities as would be intended, or have a tendency, to create disorder or disturbance of public peace by resort to violence.

  • It is only when the words, written or spoken, etc. which have the pernicious tendency or intention of creating public disorder or disturbance of law and order that the law steps in to prevent such activities in the interest of public order.

  • We propose to limit its operation only to such activities as come within the ambit of the observations of the Federal Court, that is to say, activities involving incitement to violence or intention or tendency to create public disorder or cause disturbance of public peace.


  • Section 124A of the IPC has its utility in combating anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements.

  • It protects the elected government from attempts to overthrow the government with violence and illegal means. The continued existence of the government established by law is an essential condition of the stability of the State.

  • If contempt of court invites penal action, contempt of government should also attract punishment.

  • Many districts in different states face a Maoist insurgency and rebel groups virtually run a parallel administration. These groups openly advocate the overthrow of the state government by revolution.

  • Against this backdrop, the abolition of Section 124A would be ill-advised merely because it has been wrongly invoked in some highly publicized cases.


  • Section 124A is a relic of colonial legacy and unsuited in a democracy. It is a constraint on the legitimate exercise of constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression.

  • Dissent and criticism of the government are essential ingredients of robust public debate in a vibrant democracy. They should not be constructed as sedition.

  • Right to question, criticize and change rulers is very fundamental to the idea of democracy.

  • The British, who introduced sedition to oppress Indians, have themselves abolished the law in their country. There is no reason why India should not abolish this section.

  • The terms used under Section 124A like 'disaffection' are vague and subject to different interpretations to the whims and fancies of the investigating officers.

  • IPC and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act 2019 have provisions that penalize "disrupting the public order" or "overthrowing the government with violence and illegal means". These are sufficient for protecting national integrity. There is no need for Section 124A.

  • The sedition law is being misused as a tool to persecute political dissent. A wide and concentrated executive discretion is inbuilt into it which permits the blatant abuse.

  • In 1979, India ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which sets forth internationally recognized standards for the protection of freedom of expression. However, misuse of sedition and arbitrary slapping of charges are inconsistent with India's international commitments.

  • Section 124A should not be misused as a tool to curb free speech. The SC caveat, given in Kedar Nath case, on prosecution under the law can check its misuse. It needs to be examined under the changed facts and circumstances and also on the anvil of ever-evolving tests of necessity, proportionality and arbitrariness,

SOURCE: Indian Express