Sedition Position

Sedition is incorporated in section 124A  under Chapter VI of the Indian Penal Code (hereinafter IPC). This chapter deals with offences against the state like waging war, assault against high officials, escape of state prisoners, and sedition. Now, this paper will provide the expounded mode of sedition in Indian Law.


The ages of sedition can be traced back to the times of Thomas Macaulay, who embodied the sedition u/s 113 of the penal code 1837. It was argued that it was introduced to quell the voices of members of the khilafat movement and the Indian Independence revolt. Due to some reasons at the time of the Indian penal code of 1860, sedition was not included. But it was again added in 1870 along with section 121A by the amendments introduced by Stephen James. British Raj incorporated sedition under the title of ‘Exciting Disaffection’. In the UK, sedition was dealt with in Law of treason from 1972 to 2009. After 2009 no sedition offences were charged against the citizens of the UK, stating that it was an arbitrary law and it was abolished in 2009.


Under section 124A of IPC, therein stated, the words written or spoken, or signs or visible representations which bring or attempt to bring hatred or contempt, or excite or attempt to excite disaffection towards the government established by law.  The words written should be published otherwise it doesn’t constitute an offence. Sending seditious matters to someone without any designation and representing a larger body constitutes an offence.[1]

Disaffection towards the government includes all kinds of enmity and disloyalty. Disaffection is not obeying lawful authority with an intent to create such disaffection towards the disposition of the same even though no incitement took place.[2] It includes speech or conduct which is intimidating the government’s stability,  disrupts the law and order, and public safety, and overthrows the government through violent or illegal means. 

Sedition does not include the comments on measures, policies, and administrative activities adopted by the government and to change them in lawful means without exciting disaffection or hatred, or contempt. Expressing discontent towards the state of affairs doesn’t constitute sedition.[3]

The punishment prescribed for this is Imprisonment for up to 3 years for which a fine may be added or imprisonment for life to which a fine may be added or sometimes just with a fine. It is a non-bailable offence. The seditionist is eligible to apply for Government Jobs and has to live without passport facilities. He/ She must have to report at all times whenever required for the same. Indira Gandhi made this sedition a cognizable offence, that is arrest without warrant in 1973 for the first time through CrPC, 1973 amendment. 


The first ever reported case was Queen vs. Jogendra Chandra Bose,[4] wherein Jogendra, an Indian merchant was charged with contempt of court. He dissented from the Age of Consent Act of 1891. Later the charges against him were dropped and he was released on bail.

Later that many eminent leaders like Balgangadhar tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jawaharlal Nehru were tried under the charges of sedition. Among them is Queen Empress vs. Balgangadhar Tilak,[5], Tilak was tried 2 times for sedition charges for the publication of his articles in Kesari in 1894 and 1909 on ” Shivaji Utterances” and “The Country Misfortune” respectively. He was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment for seditious writing in 1909. Mahatma Gandhi was charged with seditious writing in Young India and imprisoned for 6 years.

After this more cases like Tara Singh gopichand vs. State, and Ramesh Thoppar’s case wherein stated that sedition is ultra-vires to the Constitutional validity, and in some cases, it upheld the validity of the Constitution. Different judgments gave divergent views on sedition charges. So in 1962, the Supreme Court with a five-judge bench in Kedarnath vs. the State of Bihar [6] upheld the Constitutional validity of sedition. In this case, the Supreme Court limited its application to acts involving the intent and incitement of violence and subverting the government through violence and illegal means. Fails to attempt to incitement were also included in the offence of addition. It gives immunity to the journalist against the prosecution under sedition charges.

In Balwant Singh and Anr. Vs. State of Punjab, [7]  Balwant Singh, Director of Public instructions yelled ‘Khalisthan Zindabad’ after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. The Supreme Court held that it was not seditious as it did not incite any violence or disrupt public order. In Shreya Singhal vs. Union of India,[8] Supreme Court held that no prosecution will be held against sedition until there is a direct connection with the offence. It distinguished advocacy and incitement.

In recent cases of Farook Abdullah, his speech on the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories and the abrogation of disrupt370 was sued as sedition. But the Supreme Court holds a different opinion by stating that it was not seditious to have different views from the government and that speech should result in the disruption of public order. Hence he was acquitted of the charges.

In Disha Ravi’s case, an environmental activist was charged with the offence of sedition, who allegedly created and disseminated the toolkit for farmers to protest against the Farm bills. Siddique Kaplan, a the journalist was prosecuted under sedition for reporting the Hathras case in the Popular front of India. In both cases, Supreme Court held that this section should be used for the whimsies of the government.

Currently in SG Vombatkere vs. Union of India,[9] and the petition filed by the journalist union of Assam, the apex court ruled to keep sedition in abeyance as of May 2022. Chief Justice N.V Ramana recommended reconsidering the law dealing with sedition as it ultra vires to Articles 19, 14, and 21 of the Constitution of India. CJI N.V. Ramana questioned the reason for the existence of colonial law after 75 years of independence.


As of May 2022 Supreme Court with a three-judge bench ordered to keep all the trials, appeals, and proceedings of sedition in abeyance as a suit filed by the Journalist Union of Assam to resolve the issue of application and abuse of power of sedition. The order restrains the registration of FIRs, in most serious crimes if affected parties wish they could approach the courts and pending trials should keep in recess. It appeals to the concerned state governments to obey the order and try to not register FIRs on sedition. If the affected party wants to register the FIR then it shall not be registered until the approval of the Superintendent of police, who shall state the reasons in writing.


Incorporating sedition in IPC is advantageous thing because it isolates and suppresses evil factors like anti-national activities, separatists, and terrorist factors. It acts as a defense to the government to protect its stability and legitimacy which is essential to the stability of the state. Government is the essential element of the state if it is disrupted then it will be difficult to retain the security and welfare of the people. So sedition can be advantageous in the maintenance of the same. It is a weapon to maintain law and order to ensure safety. It is considered on par with contempt of court. As we all know, the contempt of court is an offence so contempt of government can also scrutinize to defend the stability of the elected government by law. If contempt of the government is not covered it may incite hatred feelings towards the government which results in the fall of the government. India is a democratic society. Everyone has the freedom to speak up about their expressions and thoughts, but we can say that to safeguard other’s right in a democratic society it is necessary to set limits on one’s freedom. Freedom of speech and expression is restricted to the nation’s interest. So it is justified to embody the sedition in IPC. On one hand, it plays a better role in society.


Since the inception of this section 124A, it was argued for a long time that it curtails the freedom of speech and expression which was embodied in Article 19 of the constitution of India. It even violates the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR). It is an abusive weapon that is on the whimsies of political rulings. India is an independent, secular, and democratic country. Every person has the right to question, debate, and differ from the views of the government. Even though it was restricted in the nation’s interest it should be done in a responsible manner.

 It was also against the Article 14 of the Constitution of India as it allows arbitrariness in its punishment regime. It doesn’t constitute the intensity of the offence and punishment regime, it only prescribes the punishment for the offence. So it allows prejudice and political interference while delivering the judgment regarding punishment.

Mahatma Gandhi criticized this section as a prince among political sections of IPC to suppress the liberty of citizens. The use of the word ‘disaffection’ is an arbitrary word that gives a “chilling effect “ to the speeches. It is an abusive weapon to penalize the journalist’s ability to report the state of affairs in the country and paralyzed the fourth estate. It acts as self censor of journalism. It is curbing dissent, misusing propaganda, imprisoning the defenders, and silencing the critics.

As it was a non-bailable offence it violates Article 21 of the Constitution of India. As the gravity of the offence is serious the offender should be made available to bail otherwise it violates his right to life. sometimes defends a long time while defending the case. So it is not justified as a non-bailable offence. There are many alternatives like the National security Act, UAPA, and IPC for preventing and penalizing offences for creating public disorder. It requires huge financial resources and puts a ton of burden on small organizations to defend these arbitrary case articles and laws on sedition.


The scope of Article 19 in cyberspace is the same as in the physical world. Instead, it widens the scope of sedition in virtual mode. In the Shreya Singhal case, the supreme struck down section 66A of the Information and Technology Act, 2000. Section 66A of the IT Act constitutes arbitrary words. All the laws are equally applicable in cyberspace too. So section 124A of IPC is equally applicable in cyberspace.


In the year 2022, the National Crimes Record Bureau reported that in Assam has the most number of sedition cases in the last eight years. Overall in India, 475 sedition cases were reported in between the years 2014 to 2021. Albeit, the conviction rate of sedition is Los in compared to the accusation.

In those times Constituent assembly wants to abrogate this sedition as it was a colonial law and arbitrary. But due to some unknown reasons, it was not removed from the penal code of 1860. After many years also some political personalities like Shashi Tharoor and Raja introduced private bills in the Parliament to omit this section. Even though many efforts this section was not omitted. As of now, the Supreme Court puts the suspension on the trails, and proceedings of the sedition charges.


To balance harmony between sedition and freedom of speech and expression, the role of the judiciary should be wide enough to interpret the charges exactly as possible. The definition of sedition should narrow down so that arbitrary words can be omitted. The debate, question, and disagreement with the government’s arbitrary power will enable the country’s progress. These days many people don’t know the charges and interpretation of the offence. The lawmen need to aware the laymen about the Law and its interpretation.

CONCLUSION Sedition is the colonial law that is used to mutilate the freedom voices. The law should be revamped along with contemporary issues. On one hand, it prevents terrorist and anti-national factors and plays a better role in the society. But on the other hand, it curtails the freedom of speech and expression which is the fundamental right embodied in the Constitution of India. So we need to balance them by making  appropriate laws to protect the civil liberties of people in the society.

[1] Suresh Chandra Sanyal, (1912) 39 Cal. 606.

[2] Queen vs. Jogendra Chandra Bose ILR 19 Cal. 35.

[3] Law Commission of India.

[4]   ILR 19 Cal. 35.

[5]   ILR 22 Bom. 112.

[6] AIR 1962 SC 955

[7]  AIR 1976

[8]  2013 12 SCC 73.

[9] 2022 Live Law SC 470

Author: Jagatha Sivani

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s