Sedition in India: Section 124 A of IPC vs Freedom of Speech

Sedition in India: Section 124 A of IPC vs Freedom of Speech


Sedition in India is defined by section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code. Section 124A was introduced by the British colonial government in 1870 when it felt the need for a specific section to deal with radical Wahabi movement of the 19th century, led by Syed Ahmed Barelvi and centred around Patna.

Section 124 A of IPC

Section 124 A states:- “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 shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years,

Sedition laws in India

Altogether, Sedition laws are found in the following laws in India:

the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (Section 124 (A))

the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (Section 95)

the Seditious Meetings Act, 1911 and

the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (Section 2 (o) (iii))

Some Famous Sedition Trials:-

It is accepted that the first time, the act was invoked, was against Jogendra Chandra Bose, the editor of Bangobasi, for voicing against Age of Consent Bill, 1891.

Bal Gangadhara Tilak. First in 1897 for exhorting to act against Rand, the Plague Commissioner. Second in 1909 in respect of certain articles published in the “Kesari” in May and June 1908, for which he was deported to Mandalay.

Gandhiji in 1922, for three articles published in the magazine Young India.

Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, 2011. He was arrested in Mumbai under IPC Section 124 (sedition), section 66 A of Information Technology Act and section 2 of Prevention of Insults to Nation Honour Act. The Kanpur-based artist had been accused of putting up banners mocking the Constitution during a rally of anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare in Mumbai and posting the same on his website

Sedition laws vs Freedom of Speech and Expression

It is argued that along with colonial laws like criminal defamation, laws on obscenity and blasphemy, the sedition law also runs against the ideal of Freedom of Expression, guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian constitution. Why such an argument against an otherwise pious act which thwarts acts threatening India’s sovereignty?

Gandhiji was one of the greatest opponent of the sedition act. It is only appropriate to quote his defence, during the 1922 sedition trial. He said, “…Section 124 A under which I am happily charged is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the IPC designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen. Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by the law. If one has no affection for a person, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote or incite to violence. But the section under which Mr Banker and I are charged is one under which mere promotion of disaffection is a crime. I have studied some of the cases tried under it, and I know that some of the most loved of India’s patriots have been convicted under it. I consider it a privilege, therefore, to be charged under that section. I have endeavoured to give in their briefest outline the reasons for my disaffection. I have no personal ill-will against any single administrator, much less can I have any disaffection towards the King’s person. But I hold it a virtue to be disaffected towards a Government which in its totality has done more harm to India than previous systemsIndia is less manly under the British rule than she ever was before. Holding such a belief, I consider it to be a sin to have affection for the system. And it has been a precious privilege for me to be able to write what I have in the various articles tendered in as evidence against me.”

What sc has to say?

The Supreme Court has clarified that sedition charges cannot be brought against a person merely for raising a voice against the government or its policies

The authorities, while dealing with offences under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, shall be guided by the principles laid down by the Constitution Bench in Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar.

The court had clarified in its 1962 verdict that 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 court had clarified that comments, however strongly worded, expressing disapproval of government actions, without exciting those feelings which generate the inclination to cause public disorder by acts of violence was not sedition.

The court had pointed out two essential ingredients required to establish the crime of sedition:


The acts must be intended to have the “effect of subverting the government” by violent means.

The acts must be intended to create disorder or disturbance of public peace and order by resort to violence and must incite violence



Critic’s -

Criticism against the government policies and decisions within a reasonable limit that does not incite people to rebel is consistent with freedom of speech and expression. Currently the section is slapped against any discording entity, without any fairness. It is this grey area, which needs to be corrected. Only when it amounts to an incitement to violence, such sections should be brought in




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