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Issue Debate #13 No place for Section 124A in a democracy: Discuss

Issue Debates Archives

There is no place for sedition in a democracy. Discuss the issue describing its historical context and its relevance in modern times.

Reading List :-
1. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/bombay-hc-citizens-have-right-to-criticise-govt/
2. http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/simply-put-clause-on-sedition-lost-in-translation/
3. http://www.thehoot.org/free-speech/media-freedom/time-to-scrap-sedition-5244



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Comments

  • edited September 2015
    - Sedition can be defined as hateful speech or actions in an attempt to bring hatred against the state machinery with the purpose of inciting violence to the extent of overthrowing the state.
    - The sedition law was incorporated into the Indian Penal Code in the late 19th century by the colonial government as Sec 124A to counter the spread on anti-British sentiments by the prevailing Wahabist threat. Therefore it was used as an administrative tool by the British to keep order.
    - It continued its use even during the freedom movement, for example, this provision was used in 1908 to put BG Tilak on trial for his writings in Kesari.
    - Post Independence the government decided to continue with this provision in light of the impending partition and threat to security and stability of the newly formed nation against communal and anti national elements.
    - In the Kedarnath vs. Union of India case in 1962 the Supreme Court was of the opinion that the section strikes a balance between individual fundamental rights and interest of public order.
    -- However, the criticisms against this law come on the ground that it's wrongful interpretation and thus blatant misuse by the state goes clearly against the fundamental rights of a citizen particularly the freedom of speech enshrined in Art 19. For eg, arrest of Binayak Sen (for possessing Maoist literature), 67 Kashmiri students in Meerut (for cheering Pakistani hockey team), Aseem Trivedi, Arundhati Roy, the recent order by Maharashtra government etc.
    So although the Section continues to be relevant even in today's times to ensure Indian sovereignty and democracy, the guidelines of its usage should be made transparent. The clause of reasonable restrictions to the FRs should not be broadened on the whims and fancies of the executive. The section should be used as a last resort and arrest under this section should be sanctioned by an officer of rank DG or above to ensure a certain level of accountability.
  • law of sedition was imposed by british government in 1875 to sabotage the revoultionary uprising for freedom in the country.It was then inducted under Section 124A of Indian penal code.It violates the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression and acting as an impediment for creative and activist ideas of the democratic people of the country.
    The recent incidents of govt punishing cartoonist Aseem Trivedi for his way of protesting against govt through his cartoons speak about 124 A obsolete and undemocratic nature .
    Incident of govt punishing kashmiri students being booked under this beviathen for cheering for pakistan speaks about its devillish nature and there ate numerous other instance of this law sabotaging the very idea of democaric rights of the people which include criticising the conduct of govt which eventually leads to better decision making.
    Thus there is a dire need to get rid of this hydra headed monstrous act to ensure citizens to enjoys their rights of conduct ,freedom and expression .
  • Although democracy in technical terms signals the rule of majority, but modern democratic states have come to function on a bedrock of inclusivity, where fringe voices are given as much space as the dominant or popular opinions.

    India, being a vibrant democracy, carries within itself some inconsistencies such as Sec. 124A of IPC or Sedition Act. Although originally drafted by the British, it has come to occupy a permanent place in our penal system, where overzealous governments utilise it for crushing dissent.

    #Historical side:

    — Drafted by the British government in 1870, when the British government felt the need for such an offence.

    — Over the years, several freedom fighters have been charged with sedition. Tilak was charged with it first in 1897 for speeches that allegedly incited violence (Shivaji’s utterances), and then later in 1909 for his newspaper writings (Kesari). He was convicted and sent to jail for 6 years.

    — Gandhi ji was also convicted of sedition charge and sent to jail for 6 years in 1922. The offence were the articles he wrote for ‘Young India’.

    — Gandhi ji was clear that sedition holds no place in a democracy. He stated in his 1922 sedition trial that affection towards the government cannot be manufactured by law, and if a person holds no affection then he is free to voice his disaffection, as long as it does not incite violence.

    #After independence :

    — Nehru, one of the fiercest critics of this law stated in a parliamentary debate on free speech in 1951, that sedition law is highly objectionable & obnoxious, and the sooner the country gets rid of it the better.

    — But political leaders stuck to it, and it remained on our penal books as it is. They were further emboldened by SC's judgement in 1962 that sedition law has a place in modern India.

    # Various sedition cases (Just listing them) :

    — Simranjit Singh Mann, of SAD-A was charged with sedition offence in 2006 for raising Pro -Khalistani slogans.
    — Praveen Togadia was charged with sedition in 2003 and also booked under the offence of ‘waging war against the nation’ , for giving hate speeches.
    — Arundhati Roy was charged with sedition in 2010 along with SAS Geelani for advocating independence of Kashmir.
    — Binayak Sen was charged with sedition in 2010 and sentenced to life imprisonment. The charge was of helping Maoists. The decision of the Sessions Court was overturned by SC in 2011 and Sen was set free.
    — Aseem Trivedi, a cartoonist was charged with sedition in 2011 amidst the backdrop of Anna Hazare’s IAC rallies. He drew cartoons depicting our national symbols in bad light and caricatured the prevalent corruption by giving slogans ‘Bhrashtamev Jayate’ .
    — Hundreds were charged with sedition for peacefully opposing Kudankulam project.

    # Usage of sedition in modern times:

    — Sedition charges have been applied for a variety of offences ranging from individual acts of criticising government to advocating secession.

    — Sedition directly runs in the face of Art.19 guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, although SC has categorically stated that advocating secession is not protected under reasonable restriction on Art.19.Hence sedition charges can very well be applied for advocating secession.

    — But the main issue is the improper and vague wording of the law:
    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…

    Hence sedition law can have a wide application, and can be used to muzzle any contrarian voice.

    — Although SC refused to strike down Sec.124 IPC along with Sec. 66 of IT Act, it has maintained over the years that sedition charges should only be applied when speeches or writings disturb order or incite violence. Mere acts of criticism of government should not be punished.

    -- SC has also said, while overturning Binayak Sen's conviction, that mere membership of banned organisation does not make an individual liable for prosecution under sedition.

    — In absence of any executive guidelines, sedition law is open to whimsical interpretation by those in power.

    — Lately, acts of disaffection with the government has been equated with disloyalty, with the accused being branded as anti-nationalist (Arundhati Roy). This is against the ideals of democracy and free speech. A mature democracy needs to be able to stomach criticism of itself without fearing dissent.


    There is an urgent need for forming guidelines which the executive must keep in mind before charging anyone under this section.

    Simultaneously it behoves the government to initiate a national debate on this issue and get views from multiple areas, before finally passing an amendment to the law, and making it much more aligned with the ideals of democracy and free speech.
  • No place for Section 124A in a democracy: Discuss

    Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code corresponds to Sedition against the Government established by law. The provision was brought out by the British colonialist to suppress the Indian freedom fighters from raising their voices against their tyrannical rule.

    India established itself as a democracy with its independence. The fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression was provided to all its citizens with reasonable restrictions which includes the security, sovereignty, integrity of the country among a few others. The IPC through Section 124A deals with the cases of sedition against individuals or groups who incite violence in the act of condemning the government through words and or pictorial representations.

    The liberty and right to freedom of speech and expression of an individual or a group clashes with the security and integrity of the nation as a whole. It is very clear that any act against the State of India that violates its security and integrity has to be reprimanded and suppressed but the issue at hand is the misuse of Section 124A. To say that there is no place for Section 124A is to, in all honesty, accept that the State of India is free of anti-national elements, within, that can threaten the State.

    There has been a substantial misuse of the Section where mere dissent against the government(s) both Centre and State by individuals has been held against them as an act of Sedition. Gandhi and Tilak during the freedom fight faced the tyranny of the British rule and post-independance, there have been Arundhati Roy, Dr Binayak Sen, Aseem Trivedi among others who have faced the brunt for being vocal against the government's functioning. The High Court of Bombay had recently acquitted Aseem Trivedi on the stand point that no violence was incited by the same.

    Section 124A, therefore, due to the misinterpretation of words, has been used as a legal handle to diminish the voices of journalists, activists and political opposition by far. If the government of the day is very much concerned about the constitutional ideals that it claims is disregarded on such occasions then it is high time that a detailed set of guidelines, in resonance with the Section, must be prepared by the executive/legislators in wider consultation with the judiciary. There could then remain clarity among all stake holders about it, especially the Police department.
    Inner needs outer and outer is transformed by the inner; Organic is inorganic and inorganic is organic; Biotic survives on abiotic and biotic replenishes the abiotic; Death is life that is dead and life is death that is alive;Sacredness grows on the seed of profanity and so profane is sacred at it's core; Forms appear different but the different are same at the nucleus; There is diversity but all distinction is illusion, all comparison is absurd
  • Most of you have missed one big point -

    Here the question is - "No place for sedition in a democracy"

    One big dimension to this question was :-

    1) Sedition laws existed when India were ruled by a foreign power. It was needed to curb expression of nationalist feelings.

    2) We transitioned to a democracy after Independence, which is founded on two principles :-

    a) Right of the people to free speech and expression, which includes right to dissent , disagree and criticize.

    b) Govt by elections, where people choose a popularly government , and people reserve the right to overthrow the government if they deem right , via periodically held elections.

    This right to criticize, dissent and disagree is a means to create public opinion, which is central to a democracy. And hence sedition laws do not have a place in democracy?




    To repeal the Section:

    1) As I mentioned, one has to be sure that there are no anti-national elements that can threaten the security and integrity of the country through violence against the State. Mark the necessary condition 'Violence'.
    2) If the argument is that we don't need a Sedition law for that and merely the clause of 'reasonable restrictions' of Article 19(2) would do, then I think one needn't need a detailed Constitution instead the Preamble should do that anyways gives a complete picture of the constitution.
    3) It is important to define the acts of individuals and categorize them to be clear about the crime an individual or a group has committed and Sedition is a crime of the highest order because it not only voices against the ideals but incites violence against what WE THE PEOPLE OF INDIA stand for.
    4) As for the distinction between dissent and sedition, its exactly for that reason why you need a detailed guidelines on Sedition, to demarcate it objectively and leave little subjectivity for error. In its absence you would club it under Article 19(2) or some other Law that describes an act against National Honor or something.
    5) Repealing something is easier than settling down and finding a consensus in a democracy that brings diverse and divergent views and opinions, and therefore, No place for Section 124A in a democracy??
    Inner needs outer and outer is transformed by the inner; Organic is inorganic and inorganic is organic; Biotic survives on abiotic and biotic replenishes the abiotic; Death is life that is dead and life is death that is alive;Sacredness grows on the seed of profanity and so profane is sacred at it's core; Forms appear different but the different are same at the nucleus; There is diversity but all distinction is illusion, all comparison is absurd
  • @kaashonline I agree that in a democratic setup the citizens should have the right to criticise, dissent and disagree. But sedition law does not envisage the muzzling of such free speech. It only terms those actions of hatred towards the Indian State machinery (not a particular government regime) as sedition that are successful in inciting violence. It does not include in its ambit agitation for wanting a different political party at the centre rather changing the characteristics of the Indian sovereignty.
    The problem comes with the vague wording of the law and hence the blatant usage of the law. Overtime SC has made it amply clear that inciting violence is a pre requisite to be charged under this law. That's why most arrests made by the police end up getting quashed by the judiciary.
  • @kaashonline I agree that in a democratic setup the citizens should have the right to criticise, dissent and disagree. But sedition law does not envisage the muzzling of such free speech. It only terms those actions of hatred towards the Indian State machinery (not a particular government regime) as sedition that are successful in inciting violence. It does not include in its ambit agitation for wanting a different political party at the centre rather changing the characteristics of the Indian sovereignty.
    The problem comes with the vague wording of the law and hence the blatant usage of the law. Overtime SC has made it amply clear that inciting violence is a pre requisite to be charged under this law. That's why most arrests made by the police end up getting quashed by the judiciary.
    Legit reply.

    So we must put in criticism the idea that sedition has to be clearly defined, (obviously), and has to be necessarily against the values enshrined in Constitution, and not merely against a political regime in power of against a political ideology.
    *No good deed goes unpunished*
  • I think it would be useful if we discussed on the necessary points that debate questions must have. For example, the question says, DISCUSS. The knowledgeable must throw light upon what could be the structure of the answer. I think, we all can write something on almost anything but then the idea must be, to be precise. Otherwise we would neither be able to hone the skill that answer writing is nor get marks. I need help, would be glad if any of you could help. Hopefully, we can do the same with other debates as well.
    Inner needs outer and outer is transformed by the inner; Organic is inorganic and inorganic is organic; Biotic survives on abiotic and biotic replenishes the abiotic; Death is life that is dead and life is death that is alive;Sacredness grows on the seed of profanity and so profane is sacred at it's core; Forms appear different but the different are same at the nucleus; There is diversity but all distinction is illusion, all comparison is absurd
  • @Jigsaw ji, my 2 cents.. The definition of sedition as given by you (Punishing what incites violence) has been given by SC.. A law envisages only what is written in it.
    Am reproducing the exact wording of Sec. 124 ipc :

    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…

    Nowhere in the law has it been mentioned that only those cases shall be undertaken when it incites violence. This pre-requisite of inciting violence is a product of judicial intervention.

    Hence clearly in its present form Sedition law aims to muzzle free speech. In fact the wording of the sedition law hasn't changed since colonial times, where it was promulgated because of the desire to suppress free speech. Sedition law has to go or needs to be amended, as it is against the democratic ideals.
  • @RasAlGhul ji
    Many a times it happens that laws are held ultra vires to the Constitution and inherently amended via judicial intervention. For eg. the SC recently held Sec 66A unconstitutional but it still remains in the statute. The agitation against this law remained till the point convictions happened under it. No one is agitating for getting it removed verbally from the statute. The remaining is on the legislature to repeal or amend the laws as directed ( Therefore many Repeal and Amendment Bills that are introduced in the Parliament from time to time) and reduce length and complexity of written laws.
    So although I don't conform to the notion that "A law envisages only what is written in it." , I do agree that the law requires more clarity and guidelines to the police on how they are to use the law (and not misuse it).
  • @kaashonline I agree that in a democratic setup the citizens should have the right to criticise, dissent and disagree. But sedition law does not envisage the muzzling of such free speech. It only terms those actions of hatred towards the Indian State machinery (not a particular government regime) as sedition that are successful in inciting violence. It does not include in its ambit agitation for wanting a different political party at the centre rather changing the characteristics of the Indian sovereignty.
    The problem comes with the vague wording of the law and hence the blatant usage of the law. Overtime SC has made it amply clear that inciting violence is a pre requisite to be charged under this law. That's why most arrests made by the police end up getting quashed by the judiciary.
    Legit reply.

    So we must put in criticism the idea that sedition has to be clearly defined, (obviously), and has to be necessarily against the values enshrined in Constitution, and not merely against a political regime in power of against a political ideology.
    So is it seditious if someone says the values of socialism and Secularism enshrined in the Constitution should be done away with by amending the Constitution?

  • edited September 2015
    @Tony24
    No it doesn't.
    I would like to clarify one thing. Sovereignty in India is popular sovereignty represented in the Parliament. So when we talk about hatred or contempt towards the Indian State, it includes any representative Government, central or state that has been lawfully established.
    So if there is a particular government at the centre and I say that I don't accept the government because its worthless etc. and this incites violence then it can come under sedition. Basically by doing so you have challenged popular sovereignty.
    My earlier answer of "hatred towards the Indian State machinery (not a particular government regime)"was therefore incomplete and incorrect (sorry for that).
    What it should have been is that it doesn't include hatred towards a particular INDIVIDUAL.
    If someone can provide some more clarity on this issue it would be great.
  • Let us clarify it once and for all.

    -- Hatred towards an individual : Not considered under sedition, it is covered under defamation. If you attempt to incite violence to kill or harm this person, you will be charged under attempt to murder or similar criminal provisions.

    -- Hatred/Contempt towards the government of the day : No problem, you can have as much contempt as you want. But make sure you don't incite violence, otherwise booked under Sedition law.

    -- Demand for doing away with values enshrined in our Constitution : No problem. Sedition law does not cover such things. You can demand anything you want. But if you incite violence, you will be booked under rioting and in extreme cases can be booked under Sedition law (Where you criticise the present government too and cause violence).
  • "Maali se adawat hai, sheyda-e-chaman hun main
    Sarkaar ka dushman hoon, wafadaar-e-watan hoon main
    Maali kabhi rutbe mein chaman ho nahi sakta
    Sarkaar ka matlab to watan ho nahi sakta
    Maali ko badlenge chaman phir bhi rahega
    Sarkaar ko badlenge watan phir bhi rahega"

    Somebody described the applicability of sedition using these lines. Applies to watan not sarkaar. You have to be anti-national. Anti-government shouldnt be sedition. The problem comes that it's very difficult to delineate the two sometimes. :-??
  • One of the severe drawback of the law is that it is open to broad interpretation of what actually tantamount to sedition .
    Amendments needs to brought in to codify cases where this act can be invoked.
    I am the PHOeNiX
  • Dont you all thing that in democracy also there should be a limit to the powers of government as well as citizens also.
    As we are saying that government always use this law to suppress the voice of a comman man and hence violating his fundamental right but if there will be not as such in our country so unlimited freedom of speech to anyone in the country can incite violence??


    Please correct me if i am wrong somewhere in my point..!!
    When there is a WILL, there is a WAY.
  • Then is sedition good or bad..??
    It can mainly depend on the situation it is getting applied to...right..??
    When there is a WILL, there is a WAY.
  • @SinghPallavi ji.. Each and every law has a positive and negative connotation. As you have guessed it depends on the situation applied to.

    Govt. needs to immediately make clear what is the definition of sedition. Is advocating secession seditious? or is criticising the working of govt. seditious? moreover is sedition law only going to be applied when there is a case of inciting violence accompanying the seditious words.. ?

    Art. 124 is totally unclear on such things. Unless the govt. rephrases the law or explains its position, its very difficult to judge the validity of Art. 124 in a democracy.

    My Take : Apply art. 124 only in cases of advocating secession, and in cases of inciting violence.
  • @RasAlGhul ji
    Thank you :) doubt cleared..
    When there is a WILL, there is a WAY.
  • Sedition was incorporated in the IPC in 1870 by the british to suppress the voice of Indians against the british rule.They used it to jail many nationalist and close down many newspapers.It was retained in the law.But it was interprated in a different manner after the freedom.Supreme Court in 1962 ruled out that any remark which may cause incitiment to violence and disturb public order will come under the ambit of sedition.But unfortunately,the govt.has used the same interpretation of sedition in free india aslo.Govt.have used this as a tool to curb any kind of criticism against them.They have connected criticism against govt.with that of disorder in public order.This has led to a encroachment in Article 19 guaranteeing Freedom of Speech and expression of the citizens.The 16th amendment in 1963 also widened the scope for restricting freedom of speech.This has only led to a reduction in constructive criticism diluting the democracy.
    Many are arguing that it is important in order to have a check on hate speech and other portraits that may invoke violence.But,there are already some other laws in place to check these activities.More or less,a tool developed to silent people against speeking the rule by british has continued to be enforced in the same way.
    Supreme Court,being the final interpreter if the constitution and the guaranteer of fundamental rights should intervene in as to alter or even repeal the law.

  • Yes, section 124A which deals with sedition is needed in Indian polity. However, to prevent the its misuse there shall be clear guidelines on when it can be invoked.

    Sedition is defined as words, symbols, other expressions invoked to bring about hatred, disaffection and contempt against government established by Law. The section has caveats for example, disapproval of government policies or criticism of government does not amount to sedition.

    So, what use is sedition law and why do we need it:
    - to punish the people who try to overthrow Indian state
    - there shall be an effective law provision to restrain anti social elements who do not owe allegiance to Indian polity and show no confidence in Indian polity and What values we stand for
    - thus, to maintain the community under our cherished constitution and values, such law becomes inevitable.

    However, there have been objections to sedition law on the following grounds,
    - it is misused and amounts to curbing speech of citizens
    - it gives tremendous powers to executive, which appear draconian and totally uncalled for, for example State is threatened to the extent that it needs to have such provisions

    Nonetheless, the objections can be refuted as follows:
    - there are many anti social tendencies and state needs effective provisions
    - with respect to its misuse, any law can be misused. The need is to have proper guidelines for checking its misuse.

    For example, Supreme court has already said that inciting violence against state has to a necessary condition for application of sedition law. However, there is a case that by the time a person is already dragged in courts, enough damage is done. So there shall be provisions safeguards before police makes arrest and proceeds under sedition law. For example, arrests under sedition shall come only after orders of commissioners of police or Judicial Magistrates at appropriate level. Further, clear cut guidelines on what constitute as sedition will save the situation.

    Thus, sedition law needs to remain. However, its application has to be looked after.
  • Sedition, which is contained in section 124(A) of IPC was initially used as a weapon to curb political dissent in pre-independence India.

    It reads that whoever by words - written or otherwise which brings or attempt to bring hatred, contempt, or excites disaffection towards government established by law can be booked under sedition.



    The present sedition law equates disaffection with disloyalty to a government. Not Allowing freedom of speech, even if it is unpleasant and unpalatable.

    Some states have twisted the sedition provision to enlarge the ambit of this section of IPC to try people on sedition charge just for criticising government and its administrators.



    Gandhi believed that a person as long as he does not contemplate, promote or incite to violence should not be charged on sedition ground.

    There is need to follow the guidelines by the Courts without any alteration from the Political class. And it needs to strictly followed by the police.

    Sedition charges should be applicable on act disturbing order or any incitement to violence.

    Bombay HC said, charge cannot be invoked whenever the government is criticized unless such censure leads to violent public disorder.



    There is a need to Re-Think on this issue and review the existing sedition law as it is becoming a tool in the hands of government to suppress the liberty of the citizens.
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