Under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution, every person has the right to talk and express their opinions. However, this liberty is not unrestricted, and under Article 19, certain legitimate limitations on freedom of speech and expression have been placed. However, if a person does an act that is considered to be disrespectful of the Indian government by his words, signs, or representation, that conduct is punished under section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Sedition is a crime that punishes speech that is considered disloyal or dangerous to the state. It is a contentious phrase that is tossed around carelessly in today's cultural discourse. With public dissatisfaction with the government's policies on the rise, the expression of unhappiness by the youth is sometimes characterised as sedition. Many people, however, are unaware of what it entails. As a result, we must first consider what sedition means in legal terms.
Sedition is defined as overt acts, gestures, or words by an individual in oral or written form that indicates dissatisfaction with the state's established government with the intent of inciting violence or hatred against it. Since 1870, it has been classified as a crime in India, as specified under Section 124A of Chapter VI of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. This section states that whomever, via spoken or written words, signs, or other means, incites or seeks to incite hatred or disdain for the Indian government is guilty of sedition.
Anti-Sedition legislation was initially proposed in India in 1837 by British historian and politician Thomas Macaulay, but it was not included in the Indian Penal Code when it was passed in 1860.The Wahabis Movement of the nineteenth century is linked to the origins of India's sedition legislation. Syed Ahmed Barelvi was the leader of this Islamic revivalist movement. The movement had been active since 1830, but in the aftermath of the 1857 rebellion, it morphed into armed resistance, a Jihad against the British. The British labelled Wahabis as insurgents and conducted military actions against them. The Indian Penal Code, 1860, did not have Section 124A during the British era. However, the IPC (Amendment) Act of 1870 added this section to the IPC as a response to the movement. This clause was eventually superseded by Section 124A by an amending act of 1898. Under the previous IPC, “exciting or attempting to arouse emotions of disaffection was classified as Sedition,” according to British Era Law. The Constitution (First Amendment) Act of 1951 inserted the word “public order” to Article 19(2), implying that a citizen's freedom of speech and expression might be restricted by legislation in order to ensure public order and stability. As a result, sedition was declared a felony after independence.
The concept of free speech has gained worldwide acclaim, with everybody agreeing that it is a fundamental human right. Such rights are guaranteed in India under Part III and Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. Because it is a citizen's right to acquire information and communicate thoughts and views with individuals inside or outside India, the aforementioned right has no geographical boundaries. The courts have been granted the authority to serve as guarantors and guardians of citizens' rights. Article 19(1)(a) guarantees the right to "freedom of speech and expression," but it is constrained by Article 19(2), which specifies the limits on legislative abridgement of the right to free speech and expression. The Federal Court had the opportunity to interpret Section 124A of the IPC in accordance with British Law in Niharendu Dutt's case . It had decided that, under Section 124A, a propensity to disrupt public order was an important factor. The Privy Council ruled that section 124A did not need encouragement to violence or a proclivity to disrupt public order.
The Supreme Court based its decisions of its cases on the notion that some kind of limitation on "Freedom of Speech and Expression" is required to maintain public order and to avoid any harm to the nation's integrity and stability. True, our Fundamental Rights cannot be unlimited; they must be restrained within acceptable bounds to guarantee that they do not cause harm to others. However, judicial rulings have underlined the need of governmental criticism as part of the fundamental core of democracy. The issue arises when the Anti-Sedition Act is used against citizens as a weapon to stifle free expression in order to force the populace to quietly follow whatever the government says. Hence, a rising dilemma and debate over the validity of section 124A have been discussed in this contemporary world.
There are some arguments in favour of this section which asserts that The Anti-Sedition Act is necessary to defend and maintain the government's stability, as well as to restrict speech and expression that is intended to provoke public unrest. All of this is required to maintain the country's integrity and security. There are regions of the nation where rebel organisations, such as the Maoists, have established hostile actions and insurgencies. They incite violence and seek to form alternative governments in the affected areas. For their own personal gain, they openly support toppling the government. These organisations must be severely punished. The Government of India is a legal entity formed by law and established under the Constitution. As a result, there must be limitations on expressing excessive scorn for or mocking of the government. If contempt of court is punishable, then so should contempt of government.
While others dissent with this opinion and contends that because it includes words like "disaffection," the legislation is ambiguous. In certain instances, it is unclear what may or cannot be characterized as disaffection. This indicates that the law can be construed differently depending on the authorities' whims and interests. India has also ratified a number of international treaties and covenants, notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which was signed in 1979. It establishes international norms for the preservation of worldwide freedom of expression. The misuse of sedition and arbitrary accusations in India, on the other hand, are incompatible with such international obligations. It's a pointless clause since Other articles of the Indian Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 make it unlawful to "disrupt public order" or "overthrow the government via violence and illegal methods." Section 121A, for example, punishes conspiracies to conduct war against the government.
As a result, there is no end point or conclusion to this never-ending discussion. However, given the Supreme Court's approach and the government's position on the legislation, it appears that this clause will not be repealed anytime soon. However, after careful consideration and thought, certain legal modifications are conceivable. Therefore in conclusion it can evaluated that in a breach of Article 19, sedition is the most serious offence. As a result, sedition legislation should have explicitly included phrases that fulfilled Article 19's limitations. The objective of the Sedition Act's speech restrictions is to safeguard national security. The Supreme Court's instructions should be followed for interpreting and applying sedition legislation.
Submitted by Shriya Jain