Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Testing the constitutionality of section 124A of IPC


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Testing the constitutionality of section 124A

The article highlights the issues with section 124A of the Indian Penal Code and suggests a review of its constitutionality in Kedar Nath judgement by a larger bench.

About section 124A of IPC

  • Section 124A of the IPC contains the law of sedition.
  • This law was enacted by the British colonial government in 1870 with the sole object of suppressing all voices of Indians critical of the government.
  • The gist of the offence is: bringing or attempting to bring the government into contempt or hatred, or exciting or attempting to excite disaffection towards the government.
  • It categorises four ways sources of seditious acts: spoken words, written words, signs or visible representations.
  • There are three explanations attached to this section.
  • The first explanation says that ‘disaffection’ includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.
  • The second and third explanations say that one can comment on the measures of the government without bringing or attempting to bring it into contempt or hatred or exciting or attempting to excite disaffection towards the government.

What did Supreme Court say in Kedar Nath case (1962)

  • In the ultimate analysis, the judgment in Kedar Nath which read down Section 124A and held that without incitement to violence or rebellion there is no sedition.
  •  It says that ‘only when the words written or spoken etc. which have the pernicious tendency or intention of creating public disorder’ the law steps in.
  • So if a policeman thinks that a cartoon has the pernicious tendency to create public disorder, he will arrest that cartoonist.
  • The Kedar Nath judgment makes it possible for the law enforcement machinery to easily take away the fundamental right of citizens.

Violation of Article 19

  • Sedition, as defined in Section 124A of the IPC, clearly violates Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution which confers the Fundamental Right of freedom of speech and expression.
  • Further, this section does not get protection under Article 19(2) on the ground of reasonable restriction.
  • However, the Supreme Court invoked the words ‘in the interest … of public order’ used in Article 19(2) and held that the offence of sedition arises when seditious utterances can lead to disorder or violence.
  • This act of reading down Section 124A brought it clearly under Article 19(2) and saved the law of sedition from being declared unconstitutional.

Consider the question “What are the issues with section 124A of Indian Penal Code? Examine the interplay between Article 19 and section 124 of IPC.”


People will display disaffection towards a government which has failed them. The law of sedition which penalises them for hating a government which does not serve them cannot exist because it violates Article 19(1)(a) and is not protected by Article 19(2). Therefore, an urgent review of the Kedar Nath judgement by a larger Bench has become necessary.

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