This Article is From May 12, 2022

Sedition Law Stayed: Time To Throw It Out? - 'Hot Mic' With Nidhi Razdan

Hot Mic with Nidhi Razdan: The Supreme Court's historic decision to put the 162-year-old sedition law on hold till the central government completes the promised exercise to reconsider and re-examine the provision is hugely significant

Hi, This is Hot Mic and I'm Nidhi Razdan.

The Supreme Court's historic decision to put the 162-year-old sedition law on hold till the central government completes the promised exercise to re-examine it is hugely significant. For years, this law has been blatantly misused by governments to target critics as well as other opponents. A law that was first brought in by the British actually to take on the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Lokmanya Tilak. This means, as per the court order, that the sedition law is now on hold. So, no new sedition cases can be registered while those currently charged under it can approach the courts for immediate bail. So, what exactly is this sedition law and how did it originate?

Section 124A defines sedition as "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 shall be punished with imprisonment." The sedition law was added to the Indian Penal Code in 1860. The punishment prescribed then was transportation "beyond the seas for the term of his or her natural life." And that was amended to life in prison in 1955. Sedition was used extensively to curb political dissent during the Independence movement. So you had freedom fighters like Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Annie Besant, and Maulana Azad who were all charged under it.

The first challenge to the sedition law came as early as 1950 when the Supreme Court said that "criticism of the Government exciting disaffection or bad feelings towards it, is not to be regarded as a justifying ground for restricting the freedom of expression and of the press, unless it is such as to undermine the security of or tend to overthrow the state." But it was the 1962 Kedar Nath Singh judgment of the Supreme Court, which was considered the most authoritative judgment on the interpretation of the sedition law so far. In this matter, a five-judge constitutional bench while upholding the constitutional validity of the sedition law that section 124A also went on to say that criticism of public measures or comments on the government actions falls under the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression as long as the comments do not "incite people to violence against the government established by law or are made with the intention of creating public disorder." In other words, you had to incite violence in order for it to be considered sedition.

Now the foundations for the latest Supreme Court order were laid last year when Chief Justice N.V. Ramana observed that sedition is being misused by authorities to trample upon citizen's fundamental rights of free speech and liberty. Data compiled by shows how sedition has been misused by governments with an increase in cases under the Modi government since 2014. Their data shows a 28% annual rise in sedition cases between 2014 and 2020 compared to the yearly average between 2010 and 2014. Those slapped with sedition in total violation of Supreme Court orders have included journalists, government critics and others. has reported how since 2014 there have been 106 sedition cases against those who posted allegedly 'pro-Pakistan' content on social media. Their data shows that 96% of sedition cases filed against 405 people for criticizing the government and politicians between 2010 and 2021, were registered after 2014. 149 of these were accused of making 'critical' or 'derogatory' remarks against the Prime Minister and 144 against UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. 39% of 279 sedition cases filed by the UPA-II government from 2010 to 2014 were against those protesting against a nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu. The rest of the cases were against Maoists. Those accused of sedition have spent an average of 50 days in prison until a trial court has granted them bail and up to 200 days in prison until a High Court gave them bail.

The public conversation about sedition started in 2012 when cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was arrested under the UPA government. He was put behind bars for two weeks just for drawing cartoons depicting the reach of corruption in society. He was accused of putting up banners mocking the constitution during Anna Hazare's rally in Mumbai and posting the same on his website. After Mr. Modi became Prime Minister, seven people in Kerala were charged with sedition for not standing up for the national anthem. Cricket matches between India and Pakistan have become a new playground for sedition cases against people accused of celebrating India's losses. Journalists, protesters, activists have all been at the receiving end of these. Just a few weeks ago, the Maharashtra government of the Shiv Sena Congress and NCP slapped sedition charges against independent MP Navneet Rana and her MLA husband for wanting to chant the Hanuman Chalisa outside Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray's residence. But there is now finally hope that this colonial era law is on its way out and into the dustbin of history.