What is Sedition? Does the sedition law have a place in a democracy like India? (250 Words)

Mentors Comments:
1. What is Sedition? What are the provisions of Sedition Law in India?
2. Discuss the need for sedition law in India. Also, debate its relevance. How it is against democratic principles.
3. Provide solutions on the ways to balance free speech and national security.

Sedition is defined in Section 124 A of IPC. It is defined as “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government is punishable with imprisonment for life. The relevance of this section in an independent and democratic nation is the subject of continuous debate.

The relevance and need of this act-
 The Kedar Nath judgment upholds the restrictions imposed by Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code on the fundamental right to free speech and expression. But the court makes it clear that such restraints apply only to “acts involving intention or tendency to create disorder or disturbance of law and order or incitement to violence”.

 The Supreme Court has repeatedly observed that the mere possibility of misuse of a provision does not per se invalidate the legislation. In such cases, the vulnerability extends only to the ‘action’ and not the ‘section’.
 According to Article 19(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 (ICCPR), this freedom may be subjected to restrictions, provided they are prescribed by law and are necessary for respecting the rights or reputation of others‘ or for the protection of national security, public order, public health or morals.
 Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India guarantees freedom of speech and expression to all citizens. However, this freedom is subjected to certain restrictions namely, interests of 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 offense.

The Law needs to be Scrapped for following reasons-
 The foremost objection to the provision of sedition is that its definition remains too wide. ‘Overbroad’ definitions typically cover both what is innocuous and what is harmful.
 In recent years that the core principle enunciated by the Supreme Court — that the incitement to violence or tendency to create public disorder are the essential ingredients of the offense — has been forgotten.
 Section 124A has been invoked against activists, writers and even cartoonists on several occasion to suppress their freedom of speech and expression (Chilling effects on Article 19 (1))
 Another lacuna, as pointed by the Law Commission of India, is that the definition of sedition does not take into consideration disaffection towards (a) the Constitution, (b) the legislatures, and (c) administration of justice, all of which would be as disastrous to the security of the State.

Way Forward
 The issue of sedition should come into play only if the territorial integrity of India as well as the sovereignty of the country are questioned by an individual or a group.
 The problem of misuse of the section can be rectified by educating the law enforcement agencies and a probable suggestion is to impose penalties on the law enforcement officers who maliciously invoke sedition against journalists, members of opposition, etc.
 Instead of ad hoc attempts to put in place loose safeguards and guidelines, the government would do well to review such outdated penal provisions. Legislation exists to deal with unlawful activities and armed movements. There is no need to criminalize words spoken or written, however strong and provocative they are in their criticism of the state.

Dissent and criticism are essential ingredients of a robust public debate on policy issues as part of a vibrant democracy. Therefore, every restriction on free speech and expression must be carefully scrutinized to avoid unwarranted restrictions.

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