As per the dictionary, Sedition Law in India means, “Conduct or speech inciting people to revolt against the authority of a state”. Sedition cases in India involve two elements. Namely an act, conduct or speech and provocation of rebellious attitude or anti-national feelings against the state.
The Law of Sedition
Sedition is an offence against the State. It is enshrined in Chapter VI of the Indian Penal Code. Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code states Sedition Law in India, “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or in another way, brings into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life. The punishment may include imprisonment which may extend to three years, fines or with both.” Indian Penal Code states, the word “disaffection” in the definition of Sedition Law in India includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.
The maximum punishment for the offence of sedition in India is life imprisonment. The offence is cognizable which means that police do not require a warrant for arrest and that it is non-bailable. It would be imperative to engage a lawyer for seeking relief in case of arrest under sedition case in India.
It is important to note that any comments expressing strong disapproval or discontentment of the administrative or other actions of the Government. Without provoking or attempting to motivate hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not add to an offence under sedition cases in India. One such event was the JNU Sedition Case which involved individuals in anti-national slogans.
What are the activities that are Seditious in nature?
Components for considering an act seditious as per the Indian Penal Code:
- Any words, either written or spoken or signs which include placards/posters (visible representation) or any act
- Which brings hatred/contempt/disaffection towards the Indian Government or the country or any authority
- Done with an intention to excite or result in ‘imminent violence’ or public disorder.
Legal Procedures related to Sedition in India
Reporting at the Police Station
A person has the right to report and file a sedition case in India against the person who has committed an offence of Sedition in India. The police station must be the nearest police station to the place where such an incident occurred. The witness of the offence must file an FIR i.e. the first information report. A police officer could also file the FIR.
Police to take cognizance
When a person files a complaint and provides any credible information about the offence of sedition in India, it is the duty of the Police to take action against such a complaint. The Police are able to directly arrest the person without a warrant who has allegedly committed the crime of sedition in India in the following cases:
- When the seditious act is going on before the police inspector, District Magistrate or Executive Magistrate.
- Information received from another police officer for the arrest of the person who has committed a seditious offence.
- F.I.R. when lodged against the person for a seditious offence.
- The police officer may arrest a suspected person for further investigation.
The investigation is initiated by the Police on First Information Report filing. The Magistrate can order an investigation to the Police for the offence of sedition in India.
A magistrate is empowered to take cognizance upon receiving any complaint. They can act upon a police report or information received from any person other than a police officer who is having knowledge of such an offence being committed under sedition law in India.
Police investigation helps file a charge sheet. It includes the FIR copy, statement of the accused, statement of witnesses, statement of the person who complained etc.
Sedition and freedom of speech and expression
The fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression is one of the major pillars on which the concept of democracy stands – calling for the equal participation of all. Courts have the power to act as guarantors and protectors of the rights of citizens.
The Supreme Court in a landmark judgment in the Menaka Gandhi case had stated: “freedom of speech and expression is not confined to geographical limitations and it carries with it the right of a citizen to gather information and to exchange thoughts with others not only in India but abroad too.”
The Rightful Dilemma
On one hand, the constitution of India provides us with the freedom to express. On the other hand, Article 19(2) enshrines reasonable restrictions to the use of the right in the interest. Maintaining the sovereignty and integrity of India. The security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States. Public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. To simplify this means that if something is capable of causing unrest in the nation, it can’t be defended by using Article 19(1)(a). Any act which incites others to destroy the unity and integrity of the nation. Is termed as sedition and not free speech.
The Supreme Court has made it very clear that it will only protect free speech from any oppressive law. The speech cannot become a license for criticising or abusing the government. Which ultimately results in violence or disrupts the public order. However, mere criticism of the government or its institutions is not sedition. No matter how harsh it is. Sedition will be punishable only if the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country are challenged by any person. For example, in JNU Sedition Case raising slogans against breaking up or dividing the country. Using a terrorist’s picture on a banner to indicate the separation of a state. Also while spreading Naxalism, seeking freedom from India, or asking of the dismemberment of India, etc. It is seditious acts.