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A Critical Analysis: Citizenship, Sedition & Freedom of Speech

Updated: Jun 16

Written By: Tanushree Jaiswal, University of Allahabad

India is a Federal Parliamentary Democratic Republic Country. As a responsible citizen we all had some Rules and Regulations which we have to follow. Also it is our duty of the citizen's of the Nation to respect our Fundamental Rights which are enriched in our Constitution.

According to the: "Newtons third Law that is for every Action, there is an equal and opposite reaction". The differences stem from the fact that in social relations the human mind is between action and reaction, which comprehends an action and initates reaction. If we are pointing something towards the public or Government Authorities regarding any particular matter or issue burning in the country. Sometimes it creates a Good impact but sometimes it creates a chaotic situation which cannot be taken under control.

In our Nation India, the Right of Freedom of Speech and Expression is enriched under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution. Free speech allows to convey individual's ideas and opinions.

Article 19(1) (a) of our Constitution guarantees Freedom of Speech and Expression to every citizen of India. Under 19(1) (a) every citizen of India is free to express his views, beliefs and convictions freely without fear. But 'Freedom of Speech is Not a Licence to Abuse. It is a Responsibility of every citizen of the country to follow'.

Sedition is an offence that criminalizes speech that is construed to be disloyal or threatening to the State. Sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and Organization that tends towards insurrection, against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent towards, or resistance against established authority. The main legal provision in India is Section 124A of the Indian Penal Court (IPC) that criminalizes speech that brings or attempts to bring into hatred or attempts to excite dissatisfaction towards the Government.

Section 124A is a cognizable where arrests can be made without a warrant, non-baliable and non-compoundable offence. Punishment for the offence can extend up to a Life imprisonment as the maximum punishment.

"Strong medicine for mere words, one might think".

The debate between the Freedom of Speech and Expression and the Sedition Law is a very interesting and old one as well as it holds a vital part in our Indian Judicial System. It is also in our Indian Democracy. Both the concepts hold a great number of importance. Our Indian Constitution has already abolished the Sedition Law but in a way, it is still a crime under Section 124A of Indian Penal Court (IPC), 1860.

The British, introduced Sedition to oppress Indians, have themselves abolished law in their country.

Sometimes the Sedition Law is misused. Lower courts have routinely failed to apply these important parameters while considering Sedition cases. The famous saying in the world of Law that is -: "Justice Delayed, Justice Denied". It is a legal maxim. It means that if legal redress or equitable relief to an injured party is available, but is not forthcoming in a timely fashion, it is effectively the same as having no remedy at all.

Kedarnath v. State of Bihar-

Kedarnath Singh, a member of the Forward Communist Party, was prosecuted for Sedition related to a Speech that he made on criticising the Government of the Nation for its Capitalist Policies. Kedarnath Singh challenged the Constitutionality of the Sedition Law.

The Apex Supreme Court (SC) of India bunched Kedarnath Singh's case with other similar incidents where persons were prosecuted under the Sedition Law.

Citizens can criticize the Government as long as they are not inciting people to violence against the Government with an intention to create public disorder.

The Supreme Court drew upon the Federal's Court decision in- 'Niharendru Dutt Majumdar', where the court held that the offence of Sedition is the incitement to violence or the tendency or the effect of bringing a Government established by the Law into Hatred or disloyalty to the State. The Supreme Court upheld the validity of the Section 124A, it is limited to application to acts involving intention to create disorder, or a disturbance of the Law and Order.

Balwant Singh and anr v. State of Punjab-

In the case the accused raised the slogans in Chandigarh-: They included "Khalistan Zindabad", "Raj karega khalsa (Only the believer shall rule)", and "Hinduan nun Punjab chon kadh ke chhadange hun mauka aya hai kayam karan da (We will drive Hindus out of Punjab; now is the chance to establish our rule)" outside a Cinema Hall just after assassination by her bodyguards of the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

The slogan raised by him had no impact on the public. Two individuals casually raising slogans could not be said to be exciting disaffection towards the Government.

In this case Section 124A IPC, in the facts and circumstances of the case have no application whatsoever and would not be attracted to the facts and circumstances of the case, the bench noted.

Shreya Singhal v. Union of India-

This case is a Judgment by a two-judged bench of the Supreme Court of India in 2015, on the issue of online speech and intermediary liability in India. The Court further held in that the Section was not saved by virtue of being a 'Reasonable Restriction' on the Freedom of Speech under Article 19(2).

The Court led that regardless the degree of the derogation and insult, a certain degree of proximity needed to exist between the utterance and the potentiality of public disorder. As this is the progressive step towards Sedition as it further limits the scope of Sedition. The Court in the case positioned the requirement for a substantive and a procedural analysis of the restrictive law.

While applying the Fundamentals of the case to Section 124A IPC, a substantive analysis showcase the provision to be excessively broad in the interpretation of Dissatisfaction. This shows a Draconian provision. Thus, the restrictions on the Freedom of Speech and Expression and its recognition as an offence under Section 124A IPC does not seem reasonable.

India is the largest democracy of the world. The right of Freedom of Speech and Expression is extremely essential ingredient of our Indian Democracy. The Expression of thought which not consonance with the policy of the Government, it is not called as Sedition.

The legal opinions and the views of the Government in favour of the Law, it is unlike that Section 124A. It will be scrapped soon.

The Section 124A of the Indian Penal Court (IPC) appears to subdue and extinguish any forms of dissent present in society.

These tendencies contradicts the ingredients which characterize a Democracy.

India should progress and alter its Sedition Laws according to transition of the Society. Sedition covers broad aspects of action, each act should be governed by its individual policies and provisions, rather than one generic offence with such a stringent punishment.

Now looking at the above arguments in favour or against and its legal provisions. It is important to introspect ourselves whether the Sedition Law must be scrapped?

The answer of the above question is-: No, but as well as most importantly it should not misused by the citizens of the Nation at any cost.

References:

1. Kedarnath v. State of Bihar AIR (1962 SC 955)

2. Balwant Singh and anr v. State of Punjab (AIR 1985 SC 1785)

3. Shreya Singhal v. Union of India (2015, 5 SCC 1)

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