Explained: The Meaning and Origin of Sedition Law in India

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"Section 124 of IPC is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen. Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. If one has no affection for a person or system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote, or incite to violence."-- Mahatma Gandhi.

New Delhi (AJRI): The Law of Sedition has become one of most legally discussed subjects now days in India.

The Association of Judicial Reforms (India), working for  transparency and fairness in Indian Justice delivery system understands cruciality this issue for India and its citizens in era of openness thus referring an article in the interest of transparency and fairness in Indian Justice delivery system.

As Article is long therefore we are publishing this in parts with sole aim to make readers understand in capsules.

"Section 124 of IPC is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen. Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. If one has no affection for a person or system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote, or incite to violence."-- Mahatma Gandhi.

Post-independence, the role of freedom of speech and expression in a democratic country like India cannot be understated, particularly since, during the British colonial rule, nearly every form of expression was smothered by the British Government. One of the chief means of doing so was by penalizing activities which in a democratic society ought to be considered to be the highest duty of a citizen. The British Government, in order to maintain the continuity of their rule in India enacted a number of laws which were used to restrain any member of the public who dared to rebel against the British rule.

Amongst these laws was the draconian offence of sedition. The offence of sedition was imported, as section 124A of the I.P.C., from English law into Indian law during the British colonial rule. The Supreme Court is hearing petitions challenging the validity of the law on sedition and has asked the government to refrain from filing any cases under the law until the review is complete.This article will trace the scope and history of the provision, its evolution, relevant cases and analyse sedition in India vs sedition in England, sedition vis--vis Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, and the law as it stands today.

Sedition: Meaning, Origin

Definition
The offence of sedition is found under Chapter VI of the Indian Penal Code 1860 (IPC), under the heading 'Offences Against the State'. It needs to be noted that the word 'Sedition' does not turn up anywhere in the Indian constitution. Section 124A of the I.P.C. defines sedition and prescribes the punishment for the said offence:

"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.

Origin
The draft Indian Penal Code 1837 formulated by the first Law Commission under the chairmanship of Thomas Macaulay consisted of Section 113 that corresponded to section 124A IPC. However, for more than 20 years the draft penal code was not enacted and when it was in 1860, the provision for sedition had been unaccountably omitted.

But it was enacted by way of a Special Act (XXVII of 1870). This was mainly due to the Wahabi Movement and the British government's intention to suppress the activities. While introducing the bill, Sir James Stephen, who was the architect of the Code of Criminal Prcedure remarked that the section had been omitted from the IPC due to "some unaccountable mistake".He further stated that the adopted clause was "much more compressed, much more distinctly expressed, and freed from great amount of obscurity and vagueness with which the law of England was hampered".

Section 124A of the IPC was amended in 1898 by the Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Act 1898 (Act V of 1898) providing for punishment of transportation for life or any shorter term. While the former section defined sedition as exciting or attempting to excite feelings of disaffection to the Government established by law, the amended section also made bringing or attempting to bring in hatred or contempt towards the Government established by law, punishable.

Subsequently, after India attained independence, all references to the words 'her Majesty, 'British India', 'or British Burma' and 'Crown Representative ‘were deleted. The provision was amended by Act No.26 of 1955, substituting the punishment as "imprisonment for life and/or with fine or imprisonment for 3 years and / or with fine". And this is how it exists today.

In next  post  Scope of  The Law of Sedition

Source: This Article is excerpt  of  an article written by Harshit Kumar, the Article was first published on website Legal Service India.com  and republished in the interest of justice .

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