Author: Khushi Nigam, Student at Bennett University, Greater Noida
India is a country which is known for its largest Democracy in the world. Here, every citizen is provided with right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. This freedom is absolute some restrictions are also there, which are mentioned under article 19 (2). However, if a person does an act that is considered to be disrespectful of the Indian government by his words, signs, or representation, that conduct is punished under section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Sedition is an offence to those speech and expressions which are disloyal and threatening towards the state.
WHAT IS THE SEDITION ACT
Sedition is the crime of initiating a revolt against the government. The law was borrowed and inserted into the section 124A of IPC in 1870, by the British.
Section 124A states that whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise brings or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added. It is a non-bailable offence.  Sedition is considered as the cognizable offence in the person who commit the offence can be arrest without a warrant and the police have the power to start the investigation without the orders of the court.
The defences available to a person charged with sedition are the following: –
- He did not create the sign or representation in question, nor did he say or write the words, nor did he perform any of the acts in issue.
- He didn’t make any attempt at scorn or disaffection.
- Such disaffection should not be towards the government.
The Indian Penal Code, 1860, did not have Section 124A during the British era. However, the IPC (Amendment) Act of 1870 added this section to the IPC. This clause was eventually superseded by Section 124A by an amending act of 1898. Under the previous IPC, “exciting or attempting to stir sentiments of disaffection was classed as Sedition,” according to British Era Law.
Meaning of Sedition under Section 124A of IPC, 1860
“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 shall be punishable with Life Imprisonment”.
LAW OF SEDITION V. FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Every case of sedition has a common defence that the action was done under article 19 (1)(a). under this article freedom of speech is given to every citizen of the country. In any case, what individuals don’t know about is Article 19(2) a speech or an act should not be something which can invoke or incite others against the state. If something causes unrest or harm to the nation, we cannot take the defence using article 19(1)(a). Such an act which incites others to destroy the harmony and integrity of the country may be termed as sedition.
There are some Indian freedom fighters who were charged with the sedition like Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak etc.
- Mahatma Gandhi was charged under sedition for publishing some articles in his Journal (Young India) in between 1919 to 1932 and those articles were disloyal towards the state. He was sentenced for a 6 years jail imprisonment.
- Bal Gangadhar Tilak was twice charged under this offence. Firstly, he was prosecuted with sedition in 1897 after making statements that allegedly incited violence and led to the deaths of two British officers. In 1898, he was found guilty but later the bail was granted to him. And secondly when in his newspaper “Kesari,” he defended Indian revolutionaries and urged for immediate Swaraj or self-rule, for which he was convicted for sedition and imprisoned in Mandalay, Burma from 1908 to 1914.
Recent case on sedition:
The most recent case on sedition was case of Disha A. Ravi.
Background: Recently Disha Ravi, a 22 years old Indian National Youth Climate Change Activist and Organizer of Fridays for Future India emerged in the news and became a matter of discussion withing days. She was arrested by the Delhi police from Bengaluru under an unnamed FIR, which stated that criminal conspiracy was being incubated by her alongside the Swedish natural extremist Greta Thunberg and many others to set up a toolkit relating to the Farmers’ protest.
The concept of free speech has gained worldwide acclaim, with everybody agreeing that it is a fundamental human right. Disha Ravi was only using social media to voice her support for farmers. However, she was arrested by the Delhi police.
The Delhi police claimed that she created a WhatsApp group to formulate a tool kit collaborated with an allegedly pro-Khalistan group Poetic Justice Foundation, and transferred the toolkit to Greta Thunberg. (Toolkits in modern day internet parlance consist of a set of guidelines to ensure the achievement of certain shared goals).
Sharing a toolkit does not mean that she was trying to spread any kind of hatred towards the nation. Toolkits are also used by the government department and private organisations to gain the momentum in social protest around the world and apart from this Article 19(1)(A) states that Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India guarantees to all its citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression.” Under Article 19(2) “reasonable restrictions can be imposed on the exercise of this right for certain purposes. But this right also has its limitations such as:
- Security of the state
- Friendly relations with foreign states
- Contempt of court
- Incitement of an offense
- Sovereignty and integrity of India
But even if we keep in mind all these issues, we can still see that Disha Ravi did not commit any of these offences. She shared a document which includes the information regarding the Farmers’ protest which is being held to oppose the farm laws applied by the government. Whereas, Judgement was in favour of the climate activist Disha A. Ravi and the bail was granted to her by the Delhi high Court.
In a violation of Article 19, sedition is the most serious offence. As a result, sedition legislation should have explicitly included language that fulfilled Article 19 (2). The goal of the Sedition Act’s speech restrictions is to preserve national security. But currently, the rules are harsh, allowing the governing party to prosecute individuals with sedition if they voice opinions that are in opposition to the government’s policy like if talk about the case of Disha A. Ravi, she was stating her issues with the policy and stating your problem with the functioning of the government is and should not be seen as sedition against the country. Simply human rights are mercilessly abused and legal notices are faced if anyone points out the problem. No one can hamper the democracy of a country and spread anti national agendas and propagandas across the world because it puts the reputation of the country at stake especially in the case of India, the largest democracy in the world.