• Recently, a journalist was charged with Sedition by the Assam Police for allegedly promoting animosity between the Assamese and Bengali-speaking people of Assam.


  • IPC was brought into force in colonial India in 1860 but had no section concerning sedition. It was introduced in 1870 on the grounds that it was dropped from the original IPC draft by mistake.
  • The UK, incidentally, would repeal the law in Britain only in 2009 (with effect from early 2010).
  • Under Section 124A of IPC, the offence of sedition is committed when any person by words or otherwise brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law.
  • Under Section 124A of IPC, the offence of sedition is committed when any person by words or otherwise brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law.
  • Sedition is a cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence under the law, entailing life imprisonment as maximum punishment, with or without a fine.


  • The penal provision came in handy to muzzle nationalist voices and demands for freedom. The long list of India’s national heroes who figured as accused in cases of sedition includes Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Bhagat Singh and Jawaharlal Nehru.
  • Bal Gangadhar Tilak was the first person to be convicted of sedition in colonial India. The British government brought the charge alleging articles carried in Tilak’s Marathi newspaper Kesari would encourage people to foil the government’s efforts at curbing the plague epidemic in India.
  • In 1897, Tilak was punished by the Bombay high court for sedition under Section 124A and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Tilak was held guilty by a jury composed of nine members, with the six white jurors voting against Tilak, and three Indian jurors voting in his favour.
  • Later, Section 124A was given different interpretations by the Federal Court, which began functioning in 1937, and the Privy Council that was the highest court of appeal based in London.
  • The Privy Council lent credence to the law laid down in Tilak’s case and ruled that incitement to violence was not a pre-requisite for the crime of sedition and that excitement of feelings of enmity to the government was sufficient to establish guilt under Section 124A.



  • There are growing instances to show that this law has been weaponised as a handy tool against political rivals, to suppress dissent and free speech.
  • The data provided by National Crime Records Bureau indicates that sedition cases have risen from 47 in 2014 to 93 in 2019, a massive 163 percent jump. However, the conversion rate from cases to conviction is a mere 3 percent.
  • This shows that the police and related state authorities are using the sedition laws indiscriminately to create fear amongst the citizens and silence any criticisms or dissent against the regime.


  • The terms “bring into hatred or contempt” or “attempt to excite disaffection” can be interpreted in many ways and this empowers the police and government to harass innocent citizens who are across the fence from them.
  • Due to its poor definition, sedition law can be used spuriously by the police to falsely accuse individuals as it does not clearly state which acts are seditious and provides a broad outline of what can be classified as seditious.


  • Freedom of speech and expression is the hallmark of a democracy that is being compromised due to the sedition law.
  • A democracy requires citizens to actively participate in debates and express their constructive criticisms of government policies.
  • However, the sedition laws have empowered the executive branch of the government to use the ambiguously defined provision as an instrument to regulate public opinion and indiscriminately wield power.
  • The sedition law has become a tool to instill a sense of compliance towards government policies in the citizens. There have been many instances where the government has used the sedition law to suppress protesting voices to protect its interests.


  • Suppressing criticism and protests against specific government policies and projects.
  • Criminalising dissenting opinions from human rights defenders, lawyers, activists, and journalists.
  • Settling political scores, sometimes with communal overtones.


  • Kedar Nath Singh judgement (Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar) which is considered the most authoritative judgement of the Supreme Court on the interpretation of the sedition law.
  • In this matter, a five-judge Constitutional bench of the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of section 124A and went on to clarify the correct position of the sedition law in India.
  • The apex court clarified that section 124A could not be used to stifle free speech, and could only be invoked if it could be proven that the seditious speech in question led to the incitement to violence or would result in public disorder.


  • Section 124A of the IPC has its utility in combating anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements. However, Dissent and criticism of the government are essential ingredients of robust public debate in a vibrant democracy. They should not be constructed as sedition.
  • The higher judiciary should use its supervisory powers to sensitize the magistracy and police to the constitutional provisions protecting free speech.
  • The definition of sedition should be narrowed down, to include only the issues pertaining to the territorial integrity of India as well as the sovereignty of the country.
  • Civil society must take the lead to raise awareness about the arbitrary use of Sedition law.
  • India is the largest democracy of the world and the right to free speech and expression is an essential ingredient of democracy. The expression or thought that is not in consonance with the policy of the government of the day should not be considered as sedition.
  • The word ‘sedition’ is extremely nuanced and needs to be applied with caution. It is like a cannon that ought not to be used to shoot a mouse; but the arsenal also demands possession of cannons, mostly as a deterrent, and on occasion for shooting.

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