Sedition Law: A Study in the Context of ‘India’

As per Section 124A of Indian Penal Code, sedition means, “whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government shall be punishable with life imprisonment.” It is placed in Indian Penal code under Chapter VI which deals with “Offences against the State”. The punishment under Section 124A of IPC can be maximum of life imprisonment and charges are both bailable and cognizable.

Mention of sedition in law statute:
1. Indian Penal Code, 1860 (Section 124-A)
2. The Code of Criminal procedure {CrPC. (Section 95)}
3. Seditious meeting Act 1911, and
4. The unlawful activities (Prevention) Act (Section 2(o)(iii)

Historical Background

The Britishers introduced this law to curb criticism of the British Raj and to suppress any voice of dissent. The law of sedition was drafted by Thomas Macaulay. It was made a part of Indian Penal Code in 1870 citing Wahabi activities from 1863-1870. The sources of Sedition law were (i) The Treason Felony Act (Operating in Britain) and (ii) The English law relating to seditious word. In the Indian struggle of independence, among the noted personalities who faced the charges of Section 124-A were Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Annie Besant, and many editors of the newspapers. The major difference between the case of Tilak and of Gandhi was that Tilak did not pleaded guilty while Gandhi pleaded guilty.
This colonial law is still in operation. It has been observed by scholars and intelligentsia time and again that this draconian law is used mostly to suppress rather than benefiting the society. The case of Aseem Trivedi, Balwant Singh, etc. can be held testimony for the same.

Some famous cases of sedition: –

Debi Soren’s Case: In this case, the appellant had made some fiery speeches castigating the Government saying, “We must have Jharkhand…. The government wants to suppress and oppress us… It is a matter of shame for the Bihar Government”, “I Spit on such government which did merciless firing on our females. We should not respect the Bihar Government… Bihar Government is cowardly”. It was urged for the State that the above speech constitute sedition. Justice S.K. Das while delivering the opinion held that, “None of the speeches constitute Sedition”. He further held that “Criticism of administrative and legislative measures of the Government of Bihar in pursuance of the demand for a separate administration were not punishable in the opinion of the Court

Ahmad Ali Vs. The state of Uttar Pradesh (1954)

In this case the Hon’ble Allahabad High Court held that “Spreading of disaffection against a party government cannot be said to be a ground for inferring that public order would be disturbed unless it results in incitement to violence

In Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia Vs. The Superintendent, Central Prison (AIR1955/193 P-220) Supreme Court held that “the incitement to a breach of every law does not necessarily result in public disorder and the connection between the impugned law and the threat to public peace must be clear and proximate and not remote or problematic

In the case of Tara Singh & Others Vs. The State of Punjab, Tara Singh was alleged to have delivered seditious speeches and was charged under Section 124A of IPC. The submission of the petitioner was that the section became invalid as it was not saved by the reservation made in clause (2) of Article 19 of the Constitution of India.

In the case of Sagolsem Indramani & Others Vs. State of Manipur case it was held by the Hon’ble Gauhati High Court that, “Even though “Public Order” had been added in clause (2) of the Art.19, it could be hardly expected that more criticism of the Government would be punishable ‘in the interest of Public Order’”.

Justice B.P. Sinha (Supreme Court Judge) in the famous case of Kedarnath Singh Vs. State of Bihar 1962 upheld the validity of the law but has severely restricted its application. He held that only “Violent Revolution” against the government attracts the charge of sedition. The same words were reiterated by Justice Deepak Mishra in September 2016.

In 1959 Allahabad High court said that sedition struck at the root of free speech and was unconstitutional.

In the case of Balwant Singh & Others Vs. State of Punjab, 1985 (SC 1785), there were allegations that the accused raised the slogan of “Khalistan Zindabad” right after the assassination of Indira Gandhi took place. In this case, the Supreme court held that “Slogan raised by the accused had no impact on the public. Two individuals casually raising slogans could not be said to be exciting disaffection towards the government. Section 124-A could not apply to the facts and circumstances of this case”.

In another interesting case of Sanskar Marathe Vs. State of Maharashtra & Others, 2015 (Public Interest Litigation) in Bombay High court, there were charges framed on a political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi of disrespect to the national emblem. The Bombay High Court held that ” the charges were in nature of political satire, and there was no allegation of incitement to violence, or tendency or intention to create public disorder”. This ultimately led to a free walk to Aseem Trivedi and bring huge disrepute to the then central government in private media houses. In almost every case, the court turned off the charges, and the accused walked free, though they had to suffer pain and discomfort of arrest, imprisonment, and trial.

Statements held against the Sedition Law: –

Bal Gangadhar Tilak raised a fundamental moral question that “whether his trail constituted sedition of the people against the British Government (Rajdroha), or of the Government against the people (Deshdroha)

Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law– M. K. Gandhi (during his trial of sedition)

If one has no affection for a person or a system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote, or incite violence-M.K. Gandhi (during his trial of sedition)

It was unquestionably a weapon at the hands of the Colonial government. But unfortunately, no elected government has thought it necessary to amend the Indian Penal Code and delete Section 124-A” –Suhrith Parthsarthy (Lawyer & Writer based at Chennai)

In 1951 Jawahar Lal Nehru described the law as “highly objectionable and obnoxious” and said “Now so far as I am concerned that particular Section is highly objectionable and obnoxious and it should have no place both for practical and historical reasons, if you like, in any body of laws that we might pass. The sooner we get rid of it the better. We might deal with that matter in other ways, in more limited ways, as every other country does but that particular thing, as it is, should have no place, because all of us have had enough experience of it in a variety of ways and apart from the logic of the situation, our urges are against it.”

Arundhati Roy in 2010 said, “In the papers, some have accused me of giving ‘hate speeches’, of wanting India to break up. What I say comes from love and pride. It comes from not wanting people to be killed, raped, imprisoned, or have their fingernails pulled out in order to force them to say they are Indians. It comes from wanting to live in a society that is striving to be just one. Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who care for justice, while communal killers, looters, rapist and those who prey on the poorest of the poor, roam free

Law Commission of India has also held that “there are certain extremely anomalous situations where certain offenses have been made punishable with severe punishment and it was suggested that offenses like sedition should be punishable either with imprisonment for life or with rigorous or simple imprisonment which may extend to three years, but not more

Britishers introduced this law to curb the voice of dissent and in independent India, a need to reanalyze the need for section 124A is demanded from various sections of society. Keeping the various judgements of Supreme court of India and other High Courts of various states of India, the charges framed on the accused could be easily easy tackled by other section of IPC and CrPC without any applicability of Sedition Law and sedition law to be applied only in the case of armed revolt or violent revolution.

The reasonable restriction on Article 19 1 (a) of the Constitution of India and term such as “In the interest of the public order” made difficult to challenge the constitutionality of Section 124-A of Indian Penal Code. The above-mentioned term is ambiguous and gave an upper hand to state to find out way around to suppress even constructive criticism of government at times. Many Political leaders on and off had made the issue of misuse of sedition law as part of their speeches, however, a strong will to obliterate Section 124-A is missing.

The Author is a student of History at Panjab University, Chandigarh. The above article was presented as a research paper by the author at the University. The writer expresses his gratitude towards Dr. Jasbir for extending his kind support and guidance over the topic.


Balwant Singh Vs. State of Punjab, Appeal (crl) 266 of 1985, AIR 1995 SC 1785 (The Supreme Court of India March 1, 1995). Retrieved October 20, 2019, from

Debi Soren & others Vs. The State of Bihar, CriLJ785 (Patna High Court 1954).

Desai, A. (2019, March 21). Retrieved October 21, 2019, from

Economic Times. (2010, October 26). Retrieved October 19, 2019, from

india, L. C. (2018). Law Commission of India Consultation Paper on “Sedition”. Ministry of Law & Justice, GOI. Department of Publication. Retrieved October 19, 2019, from

Law Commission of India. (1968). The Punishment of Imprisonment for life under the Indian Penal code. Department of Publication, GOI. Retrieved October 19, 2019, from

Narain, S. (2011). ‘Disaffection’ and the Law: The chilling effect of sedition law in India. Economic & Political Weekly, 33-37.

Sanskar Marathe & Others Vs. The State of Maharashtra, Cri. PIL 3-2015 (Bombay High Court March 17, 2015). Retrieved October 20, 2019, from,Anr%20on%2017%20March%2C%202015&targetText=Cri.PIL%203%2D2015%20IN,3%20OF%202015%20Sanskar%20Marathe%20..&targetText=The%20State%20of%20Maharashtra%20through%20Commissi

SLA. (1958, October). Does Section 124A I.P.C Contravene Article 19(1)(a). Journal of the Indian Law Institute, 1(No.1), 185-189. Retrieved October 19, 2019, from

Featured Image Source

Read More:

Rules and Regulations, a Consequential Issue of India

From Bhagat Singh’s Writings: Idea of New India


Arvind Prakash
Author: Arvind Prakash

Animal and nature lover, part-time blogger, full-time learner, and student of History @ Panjab University, Chandigarh