Explained: The Interpretation of Law of Sedition in India Under British Rule

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The first case in which section 124A of the I.P.C. was attracted was Queen-Empress v. Jogendra Chandra Bose, also known as the 'Bangobasi' case. In this case, the proprietor, editor, manager and printer of the said newspaper were accused of committing the offence of sedition.

New Delhi (AJRI): 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 of 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 the complexity on this issue in capsules.

Today we will discuss Offence of Sedition in India and the Offence of Sedition in England

The first case in which section 124A of the I.P.C. was attracted was Queen-Empress v. Jogendra Chandra Bose, also known as the 'Bangobasi' case. In this case, the proprietor, editor, manager and printer of the said newspaper were accused of committing the offence of sedition.

At the trial, Sir C. Patheram, C.J. observed that "whenever the prefix 'dis' is added to a word, the word formed conveys an idea the opposite to that conveyed by the word without the prefix". Accordingly, he interpreted the word disaffection to be a feeling contrary to affection; in other words, dislike or hatred. He distinguished the word 'disaffection' from the word 'disapprobation'. It is not mandatory that some disturbance or disaffection be produced as a result of his words and it is sufficient that such words were "calculated to excite feelings of ill-will against the Government and to hold it up to the hatred and contempt of the people, and that they were used with the intention to create such feeling". However, no verdict was announced as the jury did not reach a unanimous decision. Later the case was withdrawn after Bose had tendered apology.

In 1897, the infamous trial of Bal Gangadhar Tilak place, more commonly referred to as the 'First Tilak Trial'. The defendant was accused of sedition for publishing an article in newspaper- Kesari invoking the example of the Maratha warrior Shivaji to incite overthrow of British rule. The trial had taken place before Justice Strachey, who elaborately expounded the law and his observations were, for a long time, regarded as an authority on the Law of Sedition.

During the course of the trial, Justice Strachey, addressing the jury pointed out that the section consists of two parts namely, the general clause and the explanation. The court then explained what constitutes 'feelings of disaffection'. He observed that "I agree with Sir Comer Petheram in the Bangobasi case that disaffection means simply the absence of affection.

It means hatred, enmity, dislike, hostility, contempt and every form of ill-will to the Government. "Disloyalty" perhaps the best general term, comprehends every possible form of bad feeling to the Government. That is what the law means by the disaffection which a man must not excite or attempt to excite; he must not make or try to make others feel enmity of any kind towards the Government".

The second case was the case of Queen-Empress v. Ramchandra Narayan , in which the first accused was the editor and the second accused was the proprietor, printer and publisher of a weekly newspaper called 'Pratod', which was printed and published in the Satara District at Islampur. In Ramchandra Narayan, attempt to excite feelings of disaffection to the Government was defined as, equivalent to an attempt to produce hatred towards the Government as established by law, to excite political discontent, and alienate the people from their allegiance'.

However, it was clarified that every act of disapprobation of Government did not amount to disaffection under section 124A IPC, provided the person accused under this section is loyal at heart and is 'ready to obey and support Government'.

Thus, it can be seen that, as early as in 1897, the section had been influenced to a great extent by judicial pronouncements. The controversial nature of the term 'disaffection' is evident considering the extent to which the meaning of the same had been deliberated upon in these trials and the definitions offered were not identical. In-fact it was because of this confusion in the meaning of the word 'disaffection' that the Legislature decided to repeal and substitute the section, as it stood then, with a new section 124A in 1898.

After these cases, in Niharendu Dutt Majumdar v. the King Emperor the Federal Court digressed from the literal interpretation given to section in 124A IPC in Bal Gangadhar Tilak. The court held that the offence of sedition was linked to disruption of public order and prevention of anarchy and until and unless the speech leads to public disorder or a reasonable anticipation or likelihood of it, it cannot be termed seditious.

Thus, the crux of the defence argument in Bal Gangadhar Tilak was affirmed. The appellant was consequently acquitted by the Federal Court opining that all unpleasant words cannot be regarded 'actionable'

Later on, this definition was overruled in the case of by the Privy Council which was the highest court of appeal at that time. The reading of 'public order' in Section 124A IPC in Niharendu, was not accepted and the literal interpretation in Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and later in Ramchandra Narayan, and Amba Prasad, was upheld.

In Next post we will discuss Post- Independence Interpretation of Law of Sedition in India through case law.

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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