Sedition Law: A Look Back At Colonial Mechanism To Probe Reasons For Its Existence

The Supreme Court, on May 11, directed the Centre and states to put a hold on all pending appeals, trials and proceedings on sedition cases those were charged under the Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The order keeps all the cases in abeyance till the Centre keeps its promise to re-examine and reconsider the provision.

What entails Section 124A of IPC?

According to the sedition law,  “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government estab­lished by law shall be punished with im­prisonment for life, to which fine may be added…”

The law explains the term “dissatisfaction” as feelings of enmity and disloyalty. It explains any comment on any government or administrative measure that does not excite or seems like attempting to excite dissatisfaction, contempt or hatred would not be considered sedition.

Origin of Section 124A

The engineer of IPC, Thomas Macaulay, had included the sedition law, however, it was considered an act of offence under Section 124A later in 1890. The punishment included under the law back then was “transportation beyond the seas for the term of his or her natural life”. It was later amended to life imprisonment.

Several remarkable freedom fighters including Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mohammad Ali, Annie Besant Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Azad were slapped with this draconian law to curb political dissent.

The word ‘sedition’ had been decided to omit from the Constitution after a deliberate debate in the Constituent Assembly.

Courts’ stances on sedition law

Time and again, the judiciary had taken a dig at the existence of the colonial law as the then governments used it for their own benefits. The common ruling of the high courts and Supreme Court in several cases has remained that criticism of governments that may produce dissatisfaction towards it cannot be regarded as seditious unless the act tends to overthrow the state or undermine security.