Sedition Law in India: Balancing National Security and Citizens' Freedom

Sedition Law in India: Balancing National Security and Citizens' Freedom
Posted on 09-06-2023

Sedition Law in India: Balancing National Security and Citizens' Freedom


Sedition is a contentious topic in India, as it involves the delicate balance between national security and the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. The Law Commission of India recently released its 279th report, recommending the retention of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which contains the law of Sedition. However, this recommendation has sparked a debate on the constitutionality and misuse of the sedition law. This essay aims to critically analyze the sedition law in India, examining its historical background, interpretations, recent court cases, and the Law Commission's recommendations. The focus will be on assessing whether the law strikes an appropriate balance between national security concerns and the protection of citizens' freedom.


Historical Background of Sedition Law in India:

The sedition law in India traces its origins back to the colonial era when Thomas Macaulay drafted the IPC in 1837. Section 124A was incorporated into the IPC in 1870, defining sedition as an offense committed by individuals who bring or attempt to bring hatred, contempt, or disaffection towards the government established by law in India. During the pre-independence era, sedition cases were used to stifle dissent and suppress freedom fighters. Notable cases like Queen Empress v Jogendra Chunder Bose and the sedition trial of Bal Gangadhar Tilak highlighted the British interpretation of sedition, which encompassed political hatred towards the government.


Interpretation of Sedition Law:

The interpretation of sedition law has evolved over time. The British government primarily viewed sedition as disaffection or political hatred of the government. However, an alternative interpretation emerged, suggesting that sedition should only apply when there is incitement to violence or disorder. The Privy Council, the highest appellate court at the time, upheld the law during the sedition trial of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Post-independence, the Indian judiciary examined the constitutionality of sedition law in cases like Brij Bhushan v. The State of Delhi and Romesh Thappar v. The State of Madras. The Supreme Court held that laws restricting speech to maintain public order were unconstitutional. This led to the First Constitution Amendment, which modified Article 19(2) to replace "undermining the security of the State" with "in the interest of public order."

Subsequent cases like Balwant Singh v. State of Punjab and Kedarnath Singh v. State of Bihar further shaped the interpretation of sedition law. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of Section 124A but emphasized that criticism of the government cannot be labeled sedition unless accompanied by incitement or a call for violence. This attempt to restrict the law's scope aimed to prevent its misuse while safeguarding the state's integrity.


Recommendations of the Law Commission:

The recent recommendations of the Law Commission regarding the sedition law include the inclusion of the Kedarnath ruling, which suggests adding "with a tendency to incite violence or cause public disorder" to the provision. The commission also proposed defining the tendency to incite violence to clarify that proof of actual violence or imminent threat is not necessary. Furthermore, the commission suggested enhancing the punishment for sedition, increasing the jail term to up to seven years or life imprisonment. To prevent misuse, the commission recommended that only a police officer of a certain rank should conduct a preliminary inquiry before registering an FIR for sedition. The central or state government, based on the officer's report, would grant permission to register the FIR.


Rationale Behind the Retention of Sedition Law:

The Law Commission justifies the retention of the sedition law by citing threats to India's internal security, such as Maoist extremism and militancy. It argues that criminalizing sedition is a reasonable restriction under Article 19(2) of the Constitution, necessary to safeguard the unity and integrity of the country. The commission argues that comparisons with other jurisdictions like the US and the UK are not valid due to different histories, geographies, populations, and laws. Additionally, it suggests that anti-terror legislations cover elements of sedition, ensuring that expressions inciting violence against the government are tried under specific laws.


Drawbacks of the Law Commission's Recommendations:

While the Law Commission's recommendations aim to balance national security and citizens' freedom, they have some drawbacks. Granting significant power to law enforcement officials to determine whether a speech or article has the potential to incite disorder raises concerns about subjective judgment. The recommendation for enhancing punishment contradicts the universal demand for the scrapping of the sedition law, which many argue is outdated and curtails free speech. Critics argue that punishing citizens for expressing disaffection towards a government they have the power to remove is absurd and illogical.


Constitutional Validity of Sedition Law:

Critics question the constitutionality of the sedition law, particularly the equation of the government with the state. They argue that in a democratic republic, disaffection towards the government should not be criminalized. Terms like disaffection and visible representation are vague, providing ample room for misuse. Critics claim that sedition violates the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court's decision to stay all existing proceedings and registration of fresh cases under the sedition law in 2022, upon the assurance of the Union Government to review the law, reflects concerns about its widespread misuse by law enforcement authorities.



The sedition law in India is a complex issue that necessitates a careful balance between national security concerns and citizens' freedom. While the Law Commission's recommendations aim to address the misuse of the law and provide clarity on its interpretation, they are not without drawbacks. It is essential to reevaluate the sedition law to ensure it aligns with the principles of a democratic republic and upholds citizens' right to freedom of speech and expression. By striking a balance between safeguarding national security and protecting fundamental rights, India can foster a more inclusive and democratic society.

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