Why Supreme Court rulings have revived debate on sedition law

Following a collection of observations and rulings by the judiciary, significantly the Supreme Court this yr, first in February-March and now May-June, eminent personalities from varied walks of life have demanded abolition or modification to the sedition law because it exists right now in India.

Among these calling for a change within the sedition law are politicians reminiscent of Kapil Sibal, movie star Dia Mirza, historian S Irfan Habib and filmmaker Pritish Nandy, who’s a former parliamentarian.


On February 23, a Delhi courtroom granted bail to atmosphere activist Disha Ravi in a sedition case saying the federal government couldn’t put residents “behind bars simply because they chose to disagree with the state policies”.

The Delhi courtroom mentioned, “The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of the governments.”

On March 3, the Supreme Court dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) looking for sedition costs towards Farooq Abdullah, the previous Jammu and Kashmir chief minister imposing a nice of Rs 50,000 on the petitioners.

The Supreme Court mentioned, “Expression of views which is dissent and different from the opinion of the government cannot be termed seditious.”

On May 31, the Supreme Court stopped the Andhra Pradesh Police from taking coercive motion towards two TV information channels on the costs of sedition.

“It is time we define the limits of sedition,” the Supreme Court mentioned.

Three days later on June 3, the Supreme Court quashed the sedition case towards Vinod Dua citing 1962 Kedar Nath Singh judgment. The Supreme Court within the 1962 judgment dominated that the “citizen has a right to say or write whatever he likes about the government”.

In Vinod Dua’s case, the Supreme Court mentioned “every journalist is entitled to protection of the Kedar Nath judgment”.

In the case of journalist Vinod Dua, the Supreme Court held that each journalist is entitled to safety from sedition. (File photograph)


A day after the Supreme Court’s ruling within the Telugu TV channels’ case, former Union Law Minister Kapil Sibal mentioned, “At last the court acknowledges that sedition law needs a relook especially on its application to freedom of the press.”

Dia Mirza too joined the dissenting voices, saying, “The sedition law is misused repeatedly and should be scrapped.”

Responding to the Supreme Court ruling junking sedition case towards journalist Vinod Dua, Pritish Nandy wrote on Twitter: “The sedition law itself should be junked. It’s a relic of colonial times. Not apt for an independent India.”

Historian Irfan Habib tweeted saying, “Sedition law makes no sense in an independent govt, should have been scrapped long back. Sadly, such laws suit all governments, so they stay, the only difference is that some governments use it more viciously.”


Originally drafted by Thomas Macaulay — the person credited for bringing English schooling in India, the sedition law was launched in India in 1870. Its major goal was to take care of “increasing Wahabi activities” in India throughout these occasions as they posed a problem to the British colonial authorities.

It was anticipated that an Independent India won’t have that sedition law. The authentic Constitution that was adopted in 1950 didn’t recognise the sedition law giving proper to free speech full safety within the chapter on the elemental rights. But the primary modification introduced in 1951 launched restrictions that validated the sedition law.


Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code is known as the sedition law. The phrase “sedition” itself is, nevertheless, not talked about within the IPC part.

Political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was arrested in 2012 on costs of sedition. His drawings had satirised the rampant corruption within the UPA authorities. The costs have been later dropped. (File photograph)

The sedition law reads: “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 which may extend to three years, to which a fine may be added; or, with fine.”

In the law, sedition is a criminal offense towards the federal government, not the nation or nation.


Exciting disaffection in the direction of the federal government is on the core of sedition law in India. All politicians from the Opposition rank marketing campaign to create some kind of disaffection in the direction of the federal government. Does it quantity to sedition?

“The job of the Opposition is to oppose and to criticise the government. If the government can use it against Opposition, it is undermining the democratic structure envisaged by the Constitution of the country,” mentioned Preeti Lakhera, assistant professor of law on the National Law University, Delhi.

JNU college students Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and others are being prosecuted beneath the sedition law for allegedly elevating “treasonous slogans” within the college campus in 2016. (File photograph)

Supreme Court lawyer Atul Kumar mentioned, “Mere criticism cannot be called as sedition unless it has potential to encourage people to be violent. In a democratic setup right to speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) is as valuable as right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian constitution.”

“Justice Chandrachud while hearing a case once said that expression of dissatisfaction against government ought to be allowed as it functions in the same way as safety valves work in pressure cooker to ease out the pressure,” Atul Kumar mentioned.


According to Preeti Lakhera, “In a democracy, the opposition should not come only from a registered political party. It can and should come from the citizens when they don’t like the policies of the government. So, if I oppose and speak against the government policy or way of governance this should not invoke sedition.”

“I should be having a right to bring my views in the public domain without associating with any political party or ideology. One may not want to outsource their thinking and agency of having an opinion to a political party,” Preeti Lakhera mentioned.


Are there circumstances when criticism of the federal government by a person will be handled as sedition?

Supreme Court lawyer Atul Kumar mentioned, “The use of words or actions that are intended to encourage people to be or act against a government is sedition in the law.”

Jharkhand BJP president Deepak Prakash was charged with sedition after criticizing chief minister Hemant Soren. (File photograph)

“The courts have bent towards saying that when there is no violence, sedition law should not be invoked. But the words can be linked to violence anytime,” mentioned Preeti Lakhera.

“Causation and correlation are used interchangeably most of the time. It will be difficult to figure out that when government actually fears violence or is just using the law to discipline an opposite viewpoint,” defined Preeti Lakhera.


Sedition law has survived for greater than 70 years because the Constitution was enforced guaranteeing plenty of freedoms to the residents of India. The law got here beneath sharp criticism in 2012 when cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was arrested for sedition.

ALSO READ | The Sedition joke: Going from bad to worse

Quite a lot of Opposition leaders together with BJP’s prime chief LK Advani, Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray and anti-graft activist Arvind Kejriwal, who later fashioned Aam Aadmi Party and have become Delhi chief minister, demanded modification to the sedition law. The UPA authorities referred it to the Law Commission.

Then in March 2014, a gaggle of 60 Kashmiri college students have been booked for sedition in Uttar Pradesh. The UPA was in energy on the Centre and the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh.

Congress social gathering’s digital communications chief Divya Spandana was booked for sedition in 2018 after she known as Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “thief” in a tweet. (File photograph)

In March this yr, Minister of State for Home Affairs G Kishan Reddy instructed the Lok Sabha that the variety of sedition instances beneath the Narendra Modi authorities had been “low” in comparison with the UPA authorities.


According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 47 instances of sedition have been filed in 2014. Chargesheets have been filed towards 16 accused whereas only one particular person was convicted.

In 2015, 30 sedition instances have been filed, and 73 accused have been arrested however nobody was convicted by the courtroom.

In 2016, one particular person was convicted for sedition whereas 35 instances have been filed towards 48 accused.

In 2017, 51 sedition instances have been filed, 228 accused have been arrested, and 4 individuals have been convicted.

In 2018, two individuals have been convicted by courtroom for sedition whereas 56 folks have been booked in 70 instances.

In 2019, 93 sedition instances have been registered towards 96 folks. Two have been convicted of sedition.


Sedition was massively misused in pre-Independence period. But no authorities since Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru has made a severe effort to abolish it. Why?

Preeti Lakhera mentioned, “Such laws remain in the public domain to give an opportunity to the government to suppress anarchy and chaos. The central idea is to keep a tool in the armour like a brahmastra to maintain control.”

“There is again a thin line between fair criticisms and conspiracy. We have the robust and independent judiciary which has to ultimately decide the executive actions otherwise every dissenting voice would have been termed as sedition. At present, India should not abolish the sedition law but it definitely needs to amend it” Atul Kumar mentioned.

In its consultation paper, the Law Commission in 2018 known as for a rethink on sedition law. The Law Commission mentioned, “Every irresponsible exercise of right to free speech and expression cannot be termed seditious.”

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