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General Studies 2 >> Polity

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1. Context

Recently, The Supreme Court said petitions challenging the constitutional validity of sedition law Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code need to be heard by a five-judge Constitution bench and directed that they be placed before the Chief Justice of India for this.

2. About ‘Sedition’

  • The word "sedition" comes from the Latin word "seditio", which means "a going apart" or "insurrection".
  • It is thought to have originated in the Roman Republic, where it was used to describe any act that threatened the stability of the state.
  • Sedition is any attempt to overthrow or subvert the government by force or violence, or to incite rebellion against the government.
  • It is a serious crime in most countries and can be punishable by imprisonment or even death.
  • In the modern era, sedition laws are typically used to prosecute people who make public statements that are intended to incite violence or rebellion against the government.
  • For example, someone who publishes an article calling for the overthrow of the government, or who gives a speech that encourages people to take up arms against the state, could be charged with sedition.

 3. Sedition laws in India

  • Sedition was incorporated into the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in 1870.
  • It is defined as any action that brings or attempts to bring contempt or hatred toward the government of India.
  • Sedition cases are punishable with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
  • It categorizes four sources of seditious acts-spoken words, written words, signs, and visible representations.
  • It is classified as 'cognizable' (No need of a Court warrant to arrest the person ) and a 'non-bailable' and 'non-compoundable' offence.
  • Some people believe that it is necessary to protect the stability of the state, while others believe that it is used to suppress dissent and free speech.
  • It is important to note that the sedition law is only one of many laws that the government can use to crack down on dissent.
  • Other laws, such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), have also been used to target critics of the government.

4. Historical Background of Sedition Law 

The sedition law in India, as codified in Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), has its historical roots in the colonial period during British rule. It was not drafted by Indian authorities but by the British colonial administration. 
1. British Colonial Era: The sedition law was introduced by the British colonial administration in India during the mid-19th century. It was part of a series of legal measures enacted by the colonial authorities to suppress dissent and control the Indian population.
2. Lord Macaulay's Draft: The Indian Penal Code (IPC), which includes Section 124A on sedition, was drafted by Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay, a British historian, and politician. Macaulay was tasked with creating a comprehensive legal code for India, which would serve the interests of the British colonial rulers. The IPC was ultimately enacted in 1860.
3. Objective of the Sedition Law: The primary objective of the sedition law during the colonial era was to curb any form of opposition, criticism, or resistance to British rule. It aimed to quell nationalist movements, suppress publications, and silence voices advocating for Indian self-rule or independence.
4. Legal Context: Under colonial rule, the sedition law was used to prosecute and imprison Indian freedom fighters, journalists, activists, and intellectuals who were deemed to be challenging British authority. Prominent leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jawaharlal Nehru faced sedition charges at various points in their lives.
5. Post-Independence Retention: After India gained independence from British rule in 1947, the newly formed Indian government decided to retain the sedition law as part of the Indian Penal Code. While there have been discussions and debates about amending or repealing the law, it continues to be on the statute books.  

5. Sedition law used against Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak

The sedition law was used against Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak on multiple occasions.
Mahatma Gandhi
In 1922, Gandhi was arrested and charged with sedition for his articles in the Young India newspaper. He was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison but was released after two years due to health reasons.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak
  1. In 1897, Tilak was arrested and charged with sedition for his speeches at the Shivaji festival. He was convicted and sentenced to 12 months in prison.
  2. In 1908, Tilak was arrested and charged with sedition for his articles in the Kesari newspaper. He was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison.
  • Both Gandhi and Tilak were staunch critics of British rule in India, and their sedition trials were seen as attempts by the British government to silence them.
  • However, their trials also helped to raise awareness of the Indian independence movement and galvanize support for it.
  • In addition to Gandhi and Tilak, many other Indian independence leaders were also charged with sedition, including Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.

6. About Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code

Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with the offence of sedition.  It states that whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, 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. "Disaffection" is defined as "disloyalty and all feelings of enmity".

7. Punishment for the Offence of Sedition in India

  • The punishment for the offence of sedition in India is imprisonment for life, to which a fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which a fine may be added, or with a fine.
  • In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of sedition cases filed in India.
  • This is partly due to the rise of social media, which has made it easier for people to share their views and opinions. It is also partly due to the government's crackdown on dissent.
The following are some examples of sedition cases that have been filed in India in recent years:
  • In 2019, a journalist named Gauri Lankesh was assassinated. After her death, it was revealed that she had been facing sedition charges for her critical writings about the government.
  • In 2020, a student named Disha Ravi was arrested for sedition for sharing a toolkit on social media that was related to the farmers' protests in India.
  • In 2021, a comedian named Munawar Faruqui was arrested for sedition for allegedly making jokes about Hindu gods and goddesses.
For Prelims: Young India newspaper, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Indian Penal Code, Section 124 A, sedition
For Mains: 
1. Discuss the challenges posed by the increasing use of sedition laws in India in recent years. Highlight specific cases and their impact on freedom of speech and dissent. (250 Words)
Previous Year Questions
1. The editor of ‘Young India’ was : (UKSSSC Forest Guard 2020)
A. Mahatma Gandhi      B. C. Rajagopalachari      C. Lala Lajpat Rai    D.  Bal Gangadhar Tilak
Answer: A
2. Bal Gangadhar Tilak was associated with (UPSC CAPF 2015) 
1. Poona Sarvajinik Sabha
2. The Age of Consent Bill
3. Gaurakshini Sabha
4. Atmiya Sabha
Select the correct answer using the code given below:
A. 1 and 2 only    B. 1, 2 and 4       C. 3 and 4           D. 2 and 4 only
Answer: A
3. Mahatma Gandhi said that some of his deepest convictions were reflected in a book titled, "Unto this Last" and the book transformed his life, what was the message from the book that transformed Mahatma Gandhi? (UPSC 2011)
A. Uplifting the oppressed and poor is the moral responsibility of an educated man.
B. The good of individual is contained in the good of all.
C. The life of celibacy and spiritual pursuit are essential for a noble life.
D. All the statements (a), (b) and (c) are correct in this context.
Answer: B
4. When was the infamous section 124-A relating to 'sedition' was incorporated into the Indian Penal code by an Act XXVII? (UGC NET 2020)
A. 1860      B. 1861       C. 1870            D. 1879
Answer: C
5. With reference to Rowlatt Satyagraha, which of the following statements is/are correct? (UPSC 2015)
1. The Rowlatt Act was based on the recommendations of the 'Sedition Committee'.
2. In Rowlatt Satyagraha Gandhiji tried to utilize the Home Rule League.
3. Demonstrations against the arrival of the Simon Commission coincided with Rowlatt Satyagraha.
Select the correct answer using the code given below.
A. 1 only
B. 1 and 2 only
C. 2 and 3 only
D. 1, 2 and 3
Answer: B

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