‘Sedition’ refers to the act of revolting or inciting revolt against the established authority. In India, sedition is defined in the Indian Penal Code. It penalises any spoken or written words and signs, or visible representations, which raise hatred or disaffection towards the government.
The law of sedition was introduced by the British government as a tool to supress India’s freedom movement. During that period, any representation which created ill feelings, dissatisfaction or disloyalty against the government was considered as sedition. When freedom was attained, the founding fathers of the constitution omitted ’sedition’ from the permissible grounds on the basis of which freedom of speech and expression could be curtailed. It was considered that a concept as archaic as sedition could not qualify as a reasonable restriction. However this was still retained in the Penal Code.
After independence, various high courts in the country were giving conflicting judgements as to the validity of sedition. Finally, the Supreme Court, in the case of Kedar Nath clarified the scope of the law while placing reasonable restrictions on it. It was held that strong and vigorous words against the government would not be considered as seditious. Only those acts which incite violence against the government or intend on creating public disorder would be considered as criminal. The court further observed that a balance between the fundamental rights of an individual and maintaining public order had to be struck. Later judgments of the court have also reaffirmed these principles.
However, despite these guidelines, there have been various cases of sedition being brought up in recent times. In 2014, a few persons in Kerala were charged with the offence of sedition for not standing up during the national anthem in a cinema.In 2015, Hardik Patel, a social activist advocating reservation quotas for the Patel community was charged under this law. A year later, the JNU student body leader Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on the ground of sedition for allegedly shouting anti-India slogans. It appears that this law is being used discriminately against country’s citizens in contradiction to the principles laid down by the apex court in Kedar Nath case.
The government and the police have rarely exercised any constraint on their powers while carrying out arrests or pressing charges under sedition. Any person charged under this law is restricted from government jobs and is also required to give up his passport. The law is being aimed at curbing dissent against the state instead of actual incitement towards the established order.
A look at the judgements of Bihar and Jharkhand High Courts in the last five years will reveal that 88 and 41 cases respectively mention offenses related to sedition. On a careful examination, it can be found out that even though sedition was mentioned in these cases, the courts did not sentence the accused on charges of sedition but rather the convictions were carried out under Unlawful Activities Act, Arms Act and so on. The most surprising piece of data is that not even a single case was registered under this section in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. The state with allegedly the most separatist activities did not make even a single arrest on the charge of sedition.
A majority of cases never make it to the Supreme Court as most cases get rejected by the high courts or the trial courts. The reason for such rejection could be the use of this law by the administration to curb dissent, without any evidence. Hence there is a huge difference between the number of cases concerning sedition in the high courts and the Supreme Court.
It is interesting to note that the offence of sedition was abolished in the United Kingdom in 2009.It was observed that the power to criticise and question the government is one of the cornerstones of democracy. The law of sedition in England was originally used by the British to curb political dissent. Subsequently, with the rise of nationalism in various colonies, it was used it its most draconian form. However, its abolishment in the United Kingdom, a country which India owes its legal system to, should be an indication as to the necessity of this act in current times.
The application of the law of sedition is clouded by uncertainty and non- uniformity in its application. By keeping its scope deliberately vague, generations of members of the ruling class have ensured that they have a tool to censor any speech or action that goes against their interests. Successive governments have blatantly used it to stifle the voice of dissent. The Law Commission Chairman, Justice Balbir Singh Chauhan recently opined that there is a need to re-consider the provision. In light of the recent applications of this law such as the JNU row and the Hardik Patel incident, there is a strong need felt to revise this law.
 Ram Nandan v. State, AIR 1959 All 101; Tara Singh Gopi Chand v. The State, 1951 CriLJ 449.
 Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar, 1962 AIR 955.
 Ghosh, Sayantan. 2016. “Who Needs The Sedition Law? The Police More Than The Judiciary”. Newslaundry.
 Coroners and Justice Act, 2009
Author: Rishab Bajpai
Rishab Bajpai is a fourth year student currently pursuing his B.Com LLB from Gujarat National Law University (GNLU). He has participated in various moots and client counselling competitions. A keen sportsperson, Rishab has represented the university in various sporting events as well. He has an interest in corporate law and sports law.