Monday, April 19, 2010


Though the law of Sedition was added in 1870, to Indian Penal Code (IPC) as Section 124A the word “Sedition” does not occur in Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code or in the Defense of India Rule. It is only found as a marginal note to Section 124-A, and is not an operative part of the section but merely provides the name by which the crime defined in the section will be known. It prohibits incitement or attempt to incite disaffection against the govt. by spoken, written words or signs.

In the following years, more clauses were added to the IPC:

•    In 1898, Clauses on action against promoting enmity between classes;
•    In 1907 action against outrageous religious feelings, and the same action against assertions related to national integration was added.
•    In 1908, Newspapers Act was passed empowering magistrates to cease a press wherein a newspaper containing matters which incited murder or any other act of violence or offences under the Explosives Substance Act.
•    In 1910 the Indian Press Act came into existence. This comprehensive law was aimed at offences like violence and seditions. Under this Act, the govt. had the right to demand security deposit from the press or forfeit the publication.
•    In 1913, this Act was made more repressive but later on it was repealed.
•    In 1923, came another piece of stringent law, the Official Secrets Act. This prohibited the publication of classified official information.

The Law of Sedition relates to the uttering of the seditious words, the publication of seditious libels, and conspiracies to do an act for the furtherance of a seditious intention. It is the right of every citizen to discuss public affairs fully and freely but such discussions must not be directed to the incitement of unlawful acts or calculated to excite disaffection.

In Tara Singh v. State of Punjab, section 124-A was struck down by the SC as unconstitutional being contrary to freedom of speech and Expression guaranteed under Art 19(1) (a). The constitutional 1st (Amendment) Act, 1951 added in Art 19 (2) two words, “in the interest of public order”.

In the case of Kedarnath v. State of Bihar the SC held that any law which is enacted in the interest of public order may be saved from the voice of constitutional invalidity. The court had further observed that the right guaranteed under Art 19(1) (a) is subject to such reasonable restriction as would come within the purview of clause (2) to Art 19 which comprises (a) security of the State, (b) friendly relations with foreign states, (c) public order, (d) decency or morality, etc.
It further held that the continued existence of the government established by law is an essential condition of the stability of the state. Hence, any act within the meaning of section 124-A, which has the effect of subverting the Government by bringing that Government into contempt or hatred, or creating disaffection against it, would be within the penal statute because the feeling of disloyalty to the Government established by law or enmity to it imports the idea of tendency to public disorder by the use of actual violence or incitement to violence.

In a charge under section 124-A of the penal code, the prosecution must prove that the intention of the writer or the speaker is to bring into hatred or contempt or excite or attempt to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law.

In Kedar Nath’s case, CJ Bhuvneshwar P. Sinha, observed, “Comments, however strongly worded expressing, disapprobation of actions of Govt., without exciting those feelings which generate the inclination to cause public disorder by acts of violence, would not be penal.”

In order to sustain a conviction under section 124-A, it must be proved (a) that the accused spoke the words in question, (b) that he thereby brought or attempted to bring into hatred or contempt or excites or attempts to excite disaffection, and (c) that such disaffection was towards the Govt. established by law in India.

Some cases in the immediate past:

There are several cases where the state, by bringing laws in different names has tried to impose its authority. To name: the case of Binayaka Sen in Chattisgarh, of Prashant  Rahi in Uttarakhand are just a few which have hit the headlines. These people have been charged with sedition and waging war against the state when they stood up for the rights of a disadvantaged community in Naxal hit areas.

    Macherla Mohan Rao, a man from Chirala in Andhra Pradesh, had spearheaded the movement for rights of handloom workers for decades. A special invitee to the Planning Commission, he had attended several meetings to address the problems of the handloom weavers. Mohan Rao was picked up and charged under section 8(1) of the Andhra Pradesh Public Safety Act for allegedly spreading the message of Maoism among the youth.

    Prashant Rahi, a journalist from Uttarkhand, was implicated under various sections including section 124A of the IPC and sections 10 and 20 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act  (UAPA).

    Govindan Kutty, 68-year-old editor of a monthly journal People's March in Kerala, was arrested on charges related to an article he wrote in 2002 justifying an attack, allegedly by Maoists on then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Chandrababu Naidu. He has also been charged under the IPC S. 124A apart from other sections including the UAPA.

    Praful Jha, 60-yearold former bureau chief of Dainik Bhaskar , was arrested on January 22, 2008 for his alleged links to a cache of arms seized by the police in Raipur. Though not implicated under 124A he has been charged under various other sections with similar intention.

Govindan Kutty, Praful Jha, Pittala Srisailam, Lachit Bordoloi….all of them journalists and human rights activists were arrested on charges of supporting or sympathizing with the Naxals. The arrests indicate a disturbing pattern especially because in most of the cases there is no charge of violence or any actual crime committed.

The arrests are symbolic of government’s growing intolerance of people who hold political beliefs that go against the new economic polices pursued by the government.

        There might be an RTI Act, an article 19 (1) guaranteeing freedom of expression and many more laws and judgments but what will happen without the intention to abide in letter and spirit.

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