The Sedition Law in India – Origins

sedition was very much on the table but surprisingly it never saw light of the day when the code was enacted in 1860

The Sedition Law in India – Origins

Proscribed in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) under section 124A of Chapter VI, sedition is defined as an act that promotes hatred or contempt towards the Government established by law in India and excites disaffection towards the same. Further, the section explains that mere disaffection towards the Government that does not promote hatred or is done lawfully does not constitute the offence of sedition. Unfortunately, this section has been used extensively by all dispensations in manners that may seem extensive and arbitrary.

Historical Context

While the East India Company was drafting this code for India, sedition was very much on the table but surprisingly it never saw light of the day when the code was enacted in 1860. The British later admitted this to be a mistake that was an oversight. However, soon enough section 124A was brought in 1870 in response to the growing sentiments of Wahabism which the British Crown (after 1857) saw as a threat. 

This section has remained part of India’s legal recourse ever since and has changed somewhat by way of amendments but has never really done away with it.

Even though the Constituent Assembly refused to make sedition a part of the Constitution, the section remained in the IPC. 

Legally Speaking

In the pre-independence era, this section was used to put freedom fighters and political activists such as Jogendra Chandra Bose and Bal Gangadhar Tilak for activities that criticised the government. Even then, the courts were deliberating on the issue of what defines disaffection and the gravity of what is considered seditious.

Post-Independence multiple High Courts believed 124A is an acrimonious position and must be either watered down or done away with. The first-ever constitutional amendment was an outcome of the case Romesh Thapar vs. State of Madras (1950 SCR 594) where the court opined that reasonable restrictions can be imposed on free speech insofar as national security is concerned. Consequently, the provision of Article 19(2) came into being imposing reasonable restrictions on free speech. More boldly, the High Court of Punjab went ahead and declared sedition unconstitutional in the case of Tara Singh Gopi Chand vs The State (1951 CriLJ 449).  

Finally, all concerns were put to rest in the famous case of Kedar Nath vs State of Bihar (1962 AIR 955, 1962 SCR Supl. (2) 769) wherein the Supreme Court upheld the Constitutional validity of sedition clarifying that this section must be invoked only in case the expressed disaffection against the Government results in violence or incitement of violence, in all other circumstances the freedom of speech of an individual is paramount. Since this judgement, the law of sedition has always found constitutional backing and has refused to go away.

The majority of the civil society and citizen activists have voiced their strong opposition towards this law and some political parties have jumped the bandwagon as well. There is also a group of individuals who support the presence of this section but feel the State must do away with other dreaded laws such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act which is even more stringent.

In 2018 the Law Commission of India published a consultation paper on sedition which suggested a rethink on the law. A few years later, a Writ Petition was filed in the Supreme Court in 2022 in the case SG Vombatkere vs Union of India for the complete repeal of the law. This matter is still pending before a Constitution Bench and the court has ordered a stay on proceeding concerning sedition. Most recently in 2023, the Law Commission came out with its report suggesting the need for section 124A and its validity, thus bringing the issue into public foray, yet again.


Author:- Shaunak Kamtikar, a Student of Government Law College, Mumbai 

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