Published: 05th May 2022
#WhatTheFAQ: Tracing the use of sedition law against Gandhi and now, former student leader Umar Khalid et al
We trace the checkered past of the law, its origin, its adoption in the Constitution of India, the famous cases that made headlines, criticisms towards it and the status quo
The sedition law has once again come into the limelight. The Central government has requested the Supreme Court to allow the former one more week to form its stand on a slew of petitions that seek to strike down the penal provision of sedition in India.
So, what is the Section 124A under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) exactly about? What has its past been like? What are the amendments that have been made to it and what can we expect this time around? We take you through all these puzzlers and more in this round up of What The FAQ.
What is the history of the sedition law?
It was initially under the Section 113 that the sedition law was first included when Thomas Babington Macaulay drafted it way back in 1837. However, reasons for drafting it are unknown till date, it was omitted from the actual code. It was finally added to the code after being suggested by James Fitzjames Stephen in 1870. Stephen was, at the time, handling legal matters in British India. The title of the inclusion was "exciting disaffection."
What have been the major amendments to the law over the years?
The IPC Amendment Act of 1898 was the first time the sedition law was amended. The version of today stands much similar to that of the 1898 one. It was further amended in 1937, 1948, 1950 and 1951.
How was sedition drafted into the Constitution?
Sedition was initially dropped from the Constitution after independence in 1948. It was KM Munshi who moved an amendment to remove the word "sedition" that was included in the draft Constitution to counterbalance freedom of speech and expression. The word "sedition", therefore, was not to be found in the Constitution after it was adopted in 1949, but Section 124A managed to stay in the IPC. In 1951, PM Jawaharlal Nehru amended it to bring in "reasonable restrictions" on the right to free speech in the Constitution. It was in 1974 that sedition was made a chargeable offence for the first time under the Indira Gandhi government and it allowed arrests to be made without a warrant. Even today, legal experts believe that the law is a vestige of British colonial rule as it has largely retained its form since 1898.
Which public figures were booked for sedition?
Lokmanya Tilak was perhaps the first notable freedom fighter to be found guilty of sedition as he attempted to excite "feeling of enmity" against the British government in 1897. In 1922, Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned under the sedition section for his three articles for Young India. Post independence, the most famous instances of people being charged for sedition include former JNUSU leader Kanhaiya Kumar, Gujarat patidar leader Hardik Patel, political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, public health specialist Binayak Sen, author Arundhati Roy, Vishva Hindu Parishad leader Praveen Togadia, Shiromani Akali Dal leader Simranjit Singh Mann and All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen leader Akbaruddin Owaisi.
What have been the criticisms against it over time?
The history of opposing sedition goes back to Nehruvian times when the prime minister proposed to get rid of it. More recently, the protests at JNU in 2016 have singled out sedition once again. The Indian National Congress even included a proposal to abolish Section 124A in their manifesto for the 2019 general elections. It has been termed as a "draconian law" by the press, especially in the context of the more recent farmer protests and its coverage in the media.
What is expected now?
The petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the sedition law state that there is a need to take into account "the march of the time and the development of the law" before dealing with Section 124A. The Supreme Court has already asked the Centre why it was not repealing the provision used by the British to silence people like Gandhi and Tilak to suppress the freedom movement. What now needs to be seen is the government's stance on the issue as it has already delayed the detailed submission twice.