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Section 124A of the IPC defines sedition. Yet, various cases have shown that there are grey areas in this provision
By Navank Shekhar Mishra


Sedition has been a topic of heated discussion countrywide after JNU students union president Kanhaiya Kumar was slapped with these charges. This was after alleged anti-India slogans were reportedly raised during a protest march in JNU in early February to mark parliament attack convict Afzal Guru’s hanging. But what exactly does the law say about sedition?

Section 124A of Indian Penal Code 1860 defines sedition and provides punishment for it. According to this Section, the essential ingredients of this offence are as follows:

There must be use of words either spoken or written, or signs or visible representations or otherwise, which are either:

(i) intended to bring or attempt to bring hat-red or contempt, or

(ii) excites or attempts to excite disaffection, towards the government established by law in India.

In the case of Kedarnath vs State of Bihar AIR 1962 SC 955, it was observed that this provision is based on the principal that every state, whatever its form of government, has to be armed with the power to punish those who by their conduct jeopardize the safety and stability of the state, or disseminate such feelings of disloyalty as have the tendency to lead to disruption of the state or to public disorder.

SECTION 124A ASSAILED

So what is the constitutional validity of Section 124A? After the formation of the constitution of India, the constitutional vires of provisions of Section 124A was assailed on the ground that it infringes and attacks the freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed under Article 19 of the constitution.

The constitutional validity of Section 124A came up for judicial scrutiny for the first time in Tara Singh Gopichand vs State AIR 1951 East Punjab 27 wherein it was contended that this Section goes against the letter and spirit of the freedom of speech and expression.

The East Punjab High Court was pleased to declare this provision ultra vires to the constitution. The court was of the firm opinion that Section 124 A has no place in the new democratic pattern of polity adopted by India.
But in Kedarnath vs State of Bihar AIR 1962 SC 955, the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court made the observation that the freedom of speech and expression is subject to reasonable restrictions and held that any law which is enacted in the interest of public order can be saved from the vice of constitutional invalidity.


Slapped with Sedition

Section 124A has been used against many Indians in recent years. We list a few of them.

-In September 2012, Aseem Trivedi, a cartoonist, was jailed for two weeks on sedition charges for his satirical drawings that displayed widespread corruption among India’s political elite. One showed the parliament building as a lavatory buzzing with flies.

-Writer Arundhati Roy and Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani were booked for sedition by the Delhi Police for their “anti-India” speech at a seminar in Delhi in November 2010. In both cases however, the charges failed to stand up to judicial scrutiny.

-Doctor and activist Binayak Sen was accused of sedition by the Chhattisgarh government in May 2007 for allegedly supporting Naxalites, thereby violating the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005 (CSPSA) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967. He was detained and granted bail on April 15, 2011, by the Supreme Court which said no evidence of sedition was found.

-In June 2005, Simranjit Singh Mann, president of the Shiromani Akali Dal-Amritsar, was arrested from Sangrur district in Punjab for four cases of sedition. Mann reportedly raised pro-Khalistan slogans in the Golden Temple complex on the 21st anniversary of Operation Blue Star.

-In April 2003, VHP leader Praveen Togadia was slapped with sedition by the Rajasthan government on attempts “to wage a war against the nation”. He was jailed for defying prohibitory orders and a ban on the distribution of tridents and also faced a charge under Section 121-A of the IPC (waging war or attempting anti-national activity).


FOLLOW CONSTITUTION

It is a well-settled judicial practice that if there is an interpretation which is consistent with the constitution and there is another one which is inconsistent with it, then the court has to lean in favor of the former.
In this regard, the Fifth Law Commission pointed out some defects in the definition of sedition. It said:

-Section 124A does not take into account disaffection towards constitution, the legislatures and the administration of justice even though disaffection towards all these would be as disastrous to the security of the state as disaffection towards the government of India

-The punishment provided under Section 124A for sedition is very odd as it could be either imprisonment for life or an imprisonment for a period up to three years only and nothing in between (the punishment clause also provides for fine as a form of punishment).

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