Author: Abhishek Purohit, Student at Jindal Global Law School
As we all know that we have adopted a lot of legal framework from the colonial era, either respectable or ruthless. This includes wholesome structures like the Indian Contracts Act, 1872 or Transfer of Property act, 1882 on one end. However, on the other end we have adopted a range of problematic legal designs, that can be considered as dreadful in their true spirit. This undoubtedly includes Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code which is commonly regarded as the ‘Sedition Law’ and was included in the Constitution of British India in the year 1870, ten years after the original enactment of IPC. It essentially came into existence following the uproar of the Wahabai Movement, which created a lot of dissatisfaction towards the British government, and sedition law had to be enacted in order to suppress dissent. Consequently, it was adopted as a cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offense against the state. Its legal power was so pronounced that freedom fighters like Bal Gangadhar Tilak or even Mahatma Gandhi were not spared from its realm. Post-independence the continuation of sedition law was highly disputed, both in the constituent assembly and in the courts. Many members of the constituent assembly like Somnath Lahiri and Seth Govind Das were opposed to its adoption and following their efforts the word ‘Sedition’ was absent from the original constitution, but despondently section 124A stayed. However, following the judgments of the apex court in 2 landmark cases dealing with freedom of speech and expression, against ‘Organizer’ and ‘Crossroads’ magazines, the Indian government was compelled to readopt sedition law. Henceforth, it was reincluded in India’s constitution through the 1st amendment in 1951.
During the 1950’s important decisions regarding sedition law were rolled out by numerous courts in India. Initially, Sabir Raza v. The state and Tara Singh Gopi Chand v. The State reiterated that Section 124A should become void after the enactment of a new constitution. But the decision in Ram Nandan v. The State (contested in the Allahabad High Court) had a comparatively more comprehensive ratio decidendi. The court pointed out that in a democratic system, ministers or members of government framed important policies in the country, therefore they should be subjected to criticism. In line with these features, sedition law shouldn’t have any space in a democratic structure as it obstructs freedom of speech and expression, which is the essence of article 19(2). But all of these judgments were overruled by the hon’ble supreme court in the case of Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar. The apex court observed that the government established by law should be considered as a ‘Visible Symbol of the State’ and was just not restricted to administrational functions. Therefore, actions that could have the power to create disloyalty against the state and disrupt public order, should come under the ambit of sedition law and it was thereafter deemed constitutionally valid. However, the court explicitly noted that there was an inherent difference between ‘Disloyalty’ against the state and criticism of public policy and observed that the latter cannot be considered as a part of section 124A. Therefore, following the Kedar Nath case sedition law was reinstated in the Indian constitution, and the position until now broadly remains unchanged.