Author : Ujjwal Uberoi, Student at IMS Unison University
“Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech” a quote by Benjamin Franklin that throws light on importance of freedom of speech. Without freedom of speech there is no democracy, but does this freedom of speech have a limit? The answer is yes. It has a limit when it threatens violence. There are various laws that limit freedom of speech. One such law is Sedition.
Sedition as defined under Indian penal code section 124A is “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 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”.
The law of sedition punishes inciting violence against government of India, but this law has been misused many times to suppress the free speech.
This law was made during colonial times to punish freedom fighters and other voices raised against the British rule. After independence everybody thought that this law will be abolished. But this promise was not fulfilled.
According to data provided by NCRB the cases of sedition have increased within past years. Most of the registered cases were in Assam. The crime of sedition only accounts for 0.1% of total crimes in India.
Supreme Court in case of Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar held that the law of sedition is not unconstitutional but a person can only be charged under this law if they have intention of creating public disorder or disturbance of law and order. The court also said that people have a right to say or write whatever they like about government as long as they do not incite violence against the government.
The Supreme Court while examining law of sedition also upheld Freedom of speech. But even after the Supreme Court’s judgment the law is still being misused.
But sedition law is important as well for maintaining integrity of the country. There are both arguments in favour of sedition law and arguments against sedition law.
ARGUMENTS IN FAVOUR OF SEDITION LAW
- The law is important in neutralising treacherous and terrorist elements.
- It protects elected government from being thrown out by means of violence.
- For stability of the state an elected government is required and the government should be protected.
- There are many areas in India which are facing Insurgency, there this law prevents violence and overthrow of governments.
- The law should not be repealed instead government should take steps to ensure that laws are not misused.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST THE SEDITION LAW
- It is a colonial law and should not be used in a democratic country like India.
- This law was introduced to suppress freedom fighters, many leaders were charged under it such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi.
- It has been used many times to suppress freedom of speech and dissent, and many innocent have been arrested.
- Many terms are not well defined therefore this law is open for misuse.
Article 19 of Indian constitution guarantees right to freedom of speech, but it also imposes certain restriction on it in case of protecting relation with friendly countries and public order.
Article 19 (2) “Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India,] the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence”.
Freedom of speech is a very important right. If a person does not ask questions no new system will develop and no new horizons will develop either. Whether it’s Buddha or Guru Nanak Dev all asked questions against age old customs. But if questioning is made an offence then how will we get free from shackles of backwardness and move forward into a new age of development and democracy.
This law was brought by British to suppress free voices and in a democratic country like India people must be free to constructively criticise their government without fear of backlash. In a democracy even the minority voices must be respected and heard
Even our Honourable also Prime minister wrote on his twitter handle that his government should be criticised for better functioning.
Criticism of every government is necessary for survival of democracy. Even Britain the country which imposed this law on India abolished it in 2009 as it was against their human rights commitment and freedom of speech and expression.
Law commission in its report said sedition law needs to be reviewed and said “For merely expressing a thought that is not in consonance with the policy of the government of the day, a person should not be charged under the Section If the country is not open to positive criticism, there lies little difference between the pre- and post-Independence eras”. “Right to criticise one’s own history and the right to offend are rights protected under free speech” While it is essential to protect national integrity, it should not be misused as a tool to curb free speech”.
Justice (retd) Madan Lokur recently said “fundamental right to freedom of speech is extremely important for any civilised democracy”.
He also said that “different voices in our democracy must be respected they are fabric of our society”.
The very basis of our Democracy is the free speech, people were jailed or even hanged during colonial times so that we can have free speech today. To respect free speech means to respect the martyrdom of our freedom fighters.
Therefore this law should be reviewed but not be repealed. Sedition is a very serious charge and therefore should not be used casually and recklessly.
Many times people who are arrested under the sedition law are young students. Their protests have also brought changes in Indian law like the Criminal Law Amendment 2013. These protests should not be handled with iron gloves but with kid gloves. That is not to say that threats to our democracy and to our nation should not be taken seriously therefore those who are misusing freedom of speech to incite violence against the state should handled with an Iron fist.
 Indian Penal Code 1860,45 , No.45 Acts of Parliament
Jayant sriram,‘Should the sedition law be scrapped’ The Hindu(6 March 2020) <www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/should-the-sedition-law-be-scrapped/article30993146.ece ac> accessed 11 October 2020
 Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar AIR 1962 SC 955: Supp 2 SCR 76
 INDIAN CONST art 19
 Justice Deepak Gupta, Justice Deepak Gupta: Law of Sedition Needs to be Toned Down if Not Abolished,(thewire 8th September 2019),< https://thewire.in/law/justice-deepak-gupta-supreme-court-sedition> accessed 12th October 2020
 Justice Deepak Gupta, Here’s the text of Justice Deepak Gupta’s speech on sedition law being abused and misused,(theprint 8th September 2017),< https://theprint.in/opinion/heres-the-text-of-justice-deepak-guptas-speech-on-sedition-law-being-abused-and-misused/288439/> accessed 11th October 2020
 Ananya Kuthiala, ‘Sedition And The Right To Freedom Of Speech And Expression’ (SCC Online,12 December 2017)< https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2017/12/12/sedition-right-freedom-speech-expression/> accessed 11 October 2020
 Akshita Jain, ‘Justice Madan Lokur: ‘Sedition Being Used As Iron Hand To Curb Free Speech’,(huffington post,14 September 2020)< https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/justice-madan-lokur-supreme-court-free-speech_in_5f5f0363c5b62874bc1f1149> accessed 15 October 2020