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Locating the Contemporary Relevance of Sedition Law

Updated: Aug 11

The concise yet impactful 94-word provision of Section 124 of the Indian Penal Code has been regarded by many as an authoritative decree that bestows immunity upon the government, shielding it from any form of dissent or opposition. Since its inclusion in the Indian Penal Code back in 1870, these 94 words have determined the fate of countless individuals. While encompassing a mere 94 words, this provision has given rise to a kaleidoscope of diverse perspectives on its identity, relevance, and authority. The recent Law Commission report on sedition has suggested that, “Section l24A needs to be retained in the Indian Penal Code, though certain amendments, as suggested, may be introduced in it by incorporating the ratio decidendi of Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar so as to bring about greater clarity regarding the usage of the provision.”

Within this vibrant spectrum lies a noteworthy collection of judicial observations and decisions, wherein the courts have consistently intervened to curtail the arbitrary misuse of this provision, thereby safeguarding the citizens' freedom of speech and expression from the State's authoritative and suppressive actions. While recognizing the law's significance is crucial in undertaking an objective evaluation, we must delve deeper and question whether the existence of sedition serves to preserve the rule of law or merely facilitates the State's domination through legal means.

Sedition has emerged as a highly disputed and divisive subject in contemporary society, eliciting extensive debates over its legitimacy and applicability within a democratic framework. Supporters of sedition laws contend that they serve as crucial tools for safeguarding national security and averting public disorder. Conversely, critics argue that these laws are prone to misuse, enabling the authorities to quell dissent and curtail the cherished principles of free speech.

Originating from the colonial era, sedition laws were initially introduced by the British colonial government to suppress any form of opposition to their rule. Subsequently, Section 124A was incorporated into the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in 1870, bearing the intent of subduing resistance against colonial authority.

However, the interpretation of words like "hatred," "disaffection," and "contempt" remains open to discretion, leading to misuse of the law. The police can arrest the accused without a warrant, which gives them the discretion to arrest anyone they deem fit.

In recent years, there have been several high-profile cases of sedition charges being filed against activists, journalists, and students for criticizing the government or expressing their views on social media. These cases have led to widespread criticism of the sedition law and calls for its repeal.

It is important to strike a balance between national security and the fundamental right to free speech and expression and to ensure that our laws and policies do not stifle dissent or suppress the voices of opposition, but rather encourage healthy debate and constructive criticism.

Stay On Sedition Law

The SG Vombatkere vs Union of India case was filed by Major General S.G. Vombatkere, The Editors Guild of India, The Journalists Association of Assam, and others. The Supreme Court of India heard the case and stayed the operation of Section 124-A of the Penal Code, 1860, in an unprecedented order and suggested that the Union of India reconsider the provision of the law. The Court observed, “This Court is cognizant of security interests and integrity of the State on one hand, and the civil liberties of citizens on the other. There is a requirement to balance both sets of considerations, which is a difficult exercise.”

The Curious Case Of Amritpal Singh

Amritpal Singh is the leader of Waris Punjab De, a pro-Khalistani outfit. He is a self-styled Khalistani preacher who has tried to emulate the actions and dressing of the infamous Khalistani leader Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale. Amritpal attacked the Ajnala Police Station in Punjab demanding the release of his aide Toofan Singh who was arrested under charges of kidnapping and inciting violence. Amritpal demanded to revoke the FIR filed against Toofan. After the police ignored the threats, Amritpal attacked the police station and he also used the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book for Sikhs, as a shield to prevent a counterattack from the police. The police backed down and revoked the FIR against both Toofan Singh and Amritpal Singh.

Lately, Amritpal has been spewing the poison of communalism and separatism in multiple instances. In his first interview after becoming the chief of Waris Punjab De, he said that Punjab’s main issue is slavery and India’s ‘colonial rule’.

The question that is pertinent to ask here is whether sedition is all that bad. What will the State fall to if it has to create a deterrent effect for its citizens to not fall for separatism or separatist leaders? Apart from the misuses of the sedition law, there do exist scenarios where this law is the best recourse possible that the State can take to suppress divisive forces. Even though the phrase “disaffection against State” has been misused by the establishment to contain politically unwanted ideas, what will the State do without sedition if some separatist like Amritpal attempts to provoke disaffection against India and its law?

Possible Reforms And The Way Forward

Reflecting upon the 153-year-old history of Sedition in India, it can be derived that the law cannot be merely dismissed as either an arbitrary law or a law that is desperately needed to be acknowledged and used in the widest amplitude possible. Hence, the future of sedition should be dealt with a more balanced and mature approach.

Firstly, the authors put forward a request of establishing new Sedition and Preventive Detention Tribunals in each state which would eliminate the reason behind low convictions and chargesheet filed by the Police which is the lack of judges and advocates as given by the Government. A warrant must be compulsorily issued by a magistrate before detaining someone. In the Kanhaiya Kumar case, he was detained without a warrant. The practice of a mob of people pressurizing a person to restrict him/herself from saying a particular thing should be banned. Hence, if a person reports that he/she has been a victim of the hecklers' veto, then the police should look into the matter.

As Justice Nariman stated in the Shreya Singhal case, advocacy and incitement are different, a person should not be arrested under sedition on the grounds that he/she has advocated a viewpoint that can be offensive to many people.

Secondly, the Government should define hate speech as defined by the Law Commission in its 267th Report: “Any word written or spoken, signs, visible representations within the hearing or sight of a person with the intention to cause fear or alarm, or incitement to violence”. Law Commission's suggestion to add IPC Section 153B that states 'prohibition to incite hatred' should be implemented.

Thirdly, a Government National Helpline shall be launched where people can complain about hate crimes and mob lynchings. This move is inspired by an organization named United Against Hate. The Government shall also provide people with Government lawyers to help them in cases if needed.

Fourthly, each detained person should be immediately placed before a magistrate and if the magistrate feels that the detention is unlawful or unnecessary, the official who detained the person shall be fined. To conclude, if the Government is so keen on detaining people under sedition and UAPA, we believe that it should recruit more lawyers so that each person detained has a right to a free trial and is delivered justice.


In delving into the contemporary relevance of sedition, it is imperative to grasp the wide-ranging powers bestowed upon the State by this law. Our nation, characterized by its rich diversity encompassing diverse cultural, social, and geographical identities, inevitably witnesses the emergence of conflicting interests, demands, and aspirations among its myriad groups. Within this complex tapestry, frictions can escalate, fanning the flames of animosity, communalism, and violence, and if left unaddressed, even fostering sentiments of separatism. The troubled histories of regions such as Punjab, Nagaland, and Tamil Nadu bear witness to the perils of such separatist movements.

To eliminate the sedition law from the legal framework of India would be to deprive the State of a crucial tool to suppress violent movements that seek to dismantle the established order and constitutional framework through coercive means. The infamous case of Amritpal Singh stands as a recent testament, wherein a local leader brazenly wielded the instruments of law to directly challenge the authority through non-peaceful methods. Reflecting upon such events, it becomes clear that rendering this law ineffectual would render the State impotent in averting potential political instability and the encroachment of tyranny.

Whether perceived as a fundamental right or a grave offense, the issue of sedition will undoubtedly continue to occupy a prominent position in discussions and debates for the foreseeable future. Only through such informed discourse can we ensure that our legal system evolves in harmony with the ever-changing dynamics of our society, upholding justice, preserving freedom, and safeguarding the integrity of our democratic nation.


Vaibhav Pratap Singh and Aabhas Nishish Chaturvedi are second year law students at National Law University, Jodhpur.

Image source: Live Law

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