Chakshu Roy: Over the years, poets, students, and even a village have been booked under the sedition law

'And then again there are such as consider it virtuous to say, "Virtue is necessary"; but at bottom they believe only that the police is necessary': Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra.   

Indian Governments past and present have used a colonial-era law to charge many more ‘seditious’ men and women, most recently during the farmer protests, when a series of cases were filed against journalists and politicians. The crime of sedition first found mention in the draft Indian Penal Code of 1837. Englishman Thomas Macaulay was responsible for codifying the mishmash of laws applicable in different parts of the country into a draft code. Macaulay’s draft code provided that anyone who by speaking or writing attempts to “excite feelings of disaffection” towards the government in the territories of the East India Company will be punished with banishment for life or with imprisonment for three years. 

The draft code was finished in 1837 and the mutiny of 1857 catalysed its becoming into law in 1860, a year after Macaulay’s death. But the law missed out on including the clause related to sedition. The ‘mistake’ was rectified 10 years later by the insertion of Section 124A in the penal code. The sedition law came up for discussion during the framing of the Constitution. The draft Constitution included sedition as a restriction on the right of freedom of speech and expression. Members like Sardar Bhopinder Singh Mann, Sardar Hukum Singh (who later became Lok Sabha Speaker), both from East Punjab, rallied for the removal of the word sedition from the Constitution. As a result, sedition was omitted and the Constitution restricted the freedom of expression on grounds like libel, contempt of court, morality and security of the State.

After the Constitution came into effect, judicial decisions interpreted the freedom of speech and expression in a comprehensive manner. It created difficulties for the government. In response, Prime Minister Nehru’s government in 1951 introduced the first constitutional amendment Bill in the provisional Parliament. This amendment added three new restrictions to the freedom of speech, one of them being “public order”. During the debate on the Bill, MPs again raised concerns about Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code....

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