The government has initiated a re-examination of the Sedition Law

The Centre has notified the Supreme Court that it has begun a “process of re-examination” of Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code, and that talks are in their “final stage.”

What exactly is the Sedition Act?

  • Sedition is punishable under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. The IPC was enacted during the British Raj in 1860.
  • The British administration in India at the time believed that religious preachers on the Indian subcontinent would wage war against it.
  • The need for such legislation was realised in particular after the British successfully suppressed the Wahabi/Waliullah Movement.
  • Throughout the Raj, this section was used to suppress national independence activists such as Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi, both of whom were found guilty and imprisoned.

What is Sedition?

  • Sedition is defined in Section 124A as “any person who, 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.”
  • Disaffection encompasses disloyalty as well as any feelings of hatred.
  • However, comments that do not incite or attempt to incite hatred, contempt, or disaffection will not be considered offensive.

Sedition is a punishable by death.

  • Section 124A penalties vary from three years in jail to life in prison with or without a fine.

Sedition is a punishable offence

  • During the tenure of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1973, sedition was made a cognizable offence in India for the first time in history, allowing for arrest without a warrant.
  • The Supreme Court of India construed the clause in 1962 to apply only if there is “incitement to violence” or “violent overthrow of a democratically elected government.”

Is it constitutionally valid?

  • Violation of FRs: After Independence, two high courts ruled that it was illegal because it violated freedom of speech and expression.
  • Reasonable constraints: The Constitution was changed to include ‘public order’ as one of the’reasonable restrictions’ that could be imposed by law on free expression.
  • Following that, in Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar (1962), the Supreme Court upheld its validity.
  • Simultaneously, it narrowed its application to acts involving “intention or tendency to create disorder” or encouragement to violence.
  • Strong criticism does not constitute sedition: Thus, as long as they do not promote disloyalty and hatred or instigate violence, even strongly worded words are not an infraction under this clause.

Why is there such a fuss now?

  • The use of this section has become increasingly frequent in recent years.
  • Activists, cartoonists, and intellectuals have been jailed under this clause, prompting liberals to complain that it is being used to repress dissent and silence critics.
  • Misuse for propaganda: Those who cite this section argue it as a necessary step to prevent public disturbance and anti-national activity.
  • Irrelevant: Many of them have also been detained under the National Security Act and the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act.

What is being debated about it?

  • Demand for repeal: Liberals and civil rights groups have called for the repeal of Section 124A.
  • It is contended that the rule is “overbroad,” in that it defines the violation in broad terms, endangering persons’ liberty.
  • Several calls for reconsideration have been made: The Law Commission has also requested that the clause be reconsidered.
  • The law’s tyranny: It has been pointed out that Britain revoked it more than a decade ago, raising the question of whether a clause imposed by the British to suppress the freedom fight should still be legislation in India.
  • Severability doctrine: Some argue that the presumption of constitutionality does not apply to pre-constitutional laws because they were enacted by foreign legislatures or bodies.

Need for such law

  • Even now, there are people who desire to topple India’s state structure and constitutional scheme.
  • The judiciary is responsible for upholding Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution.
  • Unlawful exercise of free speech has morphed ordinary disagreement into an anti-national insurgency or rebellion.
  • There are parts of the country where hostile operations and insurgencies are being waged by rebel groups such as the Maoists.
  • There must be boundaries placed on expressing needless scorn or ridicule of the government.

The way forward

  • India is the world’s largest democracy, and the right to free speech and expression is a necessary component of democracy.
  • The sedition legislation should not be repealed because some measures are required to combat communal violence and insurgency activities such as Naxals.
  • The concept of sedition should be restricted to encompass only problems relevant to India’s geographical integrity as well as its sovereignty.
  • Section 124A should not be utilised to limit free expression.
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