“I do not look to history to absolve my country of the need to do things right today. I seek to understand the wrongs of yesterday, both to grasp what has brought us to our present reality and to understand the past for itself.”
Are all these years of independence enough to get away with a century-year-old law of Sedition? The question has been in existence from the times this country has been facing oppression. Just like the numerous laws finding their source in a foreign origin, the law of sedition was introduced in the country in 1860. However, it was a different year when the law was implemented. Among the many theories of having its origin in the first drafts of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, this omission is believed to be accidental.
The anachronistic nature of the law of Sedition is repudiated because it was introduced in the Colonial era to suppress the day-by-day increasing outrage seeking the inalienable right of revolution by the people of India. This era of the British Revolution militates against the idea of freedom of Speech and Expression in the country today.
The law of Sedition as defined under Section 124A IPC penalizes anybody who by words, signs, or representations causes or excites or attempts to cause or excite hatred or contempt towards the lawfully established government of the country. The punishment which was earlier transportation beyond the seas for the term of his or her natural life was mitigated to Life Imprisonment, which may be accompanied by a fine in the year 1955.
The problem with this law of Sedition is its serrated edge of being a non-bailable offense. The National Crime Bureau Report of 2020 depicts one such example of this law being misused. The same can be understood by the table provided below:
There have been several instances where Sedition has been put to trial for its antiquated essence through discussions in the Parliament, both at State as well as Central level, through the precedents objectifying and interpreting to fulfill the needs of changing society or through stances of opposing and in-power government of the country.
The forever upgrading law found some relaxations through the Indian Judiciary via judgments like Romesh Thapar v State of Madras where the Court stated that criticizing the government is not sedition unless it is done to undermine the security of the state or to overthrow the government or Kedarnath Singh v State of Bihar where Court held a strong opinion that an act cannot be Seditious unless it is done to ‘incite public disorder’. Other examples of precedents are Arun Jaitley v State of Uttar Pradesh in which the Court specified that mere criticism of a judicial pronouncement would not amount to Sedition and the very recent case of Vinod Dua v Union of India where the Court quashed FIRs (charging with Sedition) registered on a journalist for condemning PM’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
The issue is finally brought into light via the case of Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha v Union of India where the constitutionality of the law of Sedition is being put into question. The law is finally referred to the Central Government for re-examination and re-consideration and the apex court has been directed to put it into abeyance until further notice.
The righteousness and needfulness of the law are yet to be decided by the Union Government but its draconian nature is problematic. The changes, modification, or total abolishment of the law is contingent on the decision of the Government. Still, this initiation of change is welcomed and appreciated by the citizens of the country, just like the 2018 Law Commission Consultation Paper concluded:
“In a democracy, singing from the same songbook is not a benchmark of patriotism. People should be at liberty to show their affection towards their country in their own way. To do the same, one might indulge in constructive criticism or debates, pointing out the loopholes in the policy of the Government. Expressions used in such thoughts might be harsh and unpleasant to some, but that does not render the actions to be branded seditious”.