SEDITION

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Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code lays down the punishment for sedition. The Indian Penal Code was enacted in 1860, under the British Raj. Section 124A forms part of Chapter VI of the Code which deals with offences against the state. Chapter VI comprises sections from 121 to 130, wherein section 121A and 124A were introduced in 1870. The then British government in India feared that Muslim preachers on the Indian subcontinent would wage a war against the government. Particularly after the successful suppression of Wahabi/Waliullah Movement by the British, the need was felt for such law. Throughout the Raj, this section was used to suppress activists in favour of national independence, including Lokmanya Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi, both of whom were found guilty and imprisoned. The section kept drawing criticism in the independent India as well for being a hindrance to the right to free speech. In Romesh Thapper v. State, it was held that the limits set out under Article 19(2) are very narrow and stringent. In Tara Singh v. State, the East Punjab High Court held that section 124-A has no place in a new democratic setup and it curtailed the freedom of speech and expression. By virtue of the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951 two major changes were made to the freedom of speech and expression. First, more grounds were added as restrictions to free speech, and secondly, it imposed that restrictions must be reasonable. Section 124A of the IPC, which deals with sedition, states, "Whoever, 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 shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine." Sedition is a non-bailable offence. Punishment under the law varies from imprisonment up to three years to a life term and fine. A person charged under this law can't apply for a government job. They have to live without their passport and must present themselves in the court as and when required. Mahatma Gandhi called Section 124A “the prince among the political sections of the IPC designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen”. Jawaharlal Nehru said that the provision was “obnoxious” and “highly objectionable”, and “the sooner we get rid of it the better”. But in July 2019 Nityanand Rai, minister of state for home affairs, told the Rajya Sabha that “there is no proposal to scrap the provision under the IPC dealing with the offence of sedition. There is a need to retain the provision to effectively combat anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements.” The top Court in the case of Common Cause v. Union of India, (2016) had directed that: " We are of the considered opinion that the authorities while dealing with the offences under Section 124-A of the Penal Code, 1860 shall be guided by the principles laid down by the Constitution Bench in Kedar Nath Singhv.State of Bihar"

Arguments in support of Section 124A:

Section 124A of the IPC has its utility in combating anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements It protects the elected government from attempts to overthrow the government with violence and illegal means. The continued existence of the government established by law is an essential condition of the stability of the State If contempt of court invites penal action, contempt of government should also attract punishment Many districts in different states face a Maoist insurgency and rebel groups virtually run a parallel administration. These groups openly advocate the overthrow of the state government by revolution Against this backdrop, the abolition of Section 124A would be ill-advised merely because it has been wrongly invoked in some highly publicized cases

Arguments against Section 124A:

Section 124A is a relic of colonial legacy and unsuited in a democracy. It is a constraint on the legitimate exercise of constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression. Dissent and criticism of the government are essential ingredients of robust public debate in a vibrant democracy. They should not be constructed as sedition. Right to question, criticize and change rulers is very fundamental to the idea of democracy. The British, who introduced sedition to oppress Indians, have themselves abolished the law in their country. There is no reason, why should not India abolish this section. The terms used under Section 124A like 'disaffection' are vague and subject to different interpretation to the whims and fancies of the investigating officers.

References 

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