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Constitutional Validity of Section 124A IPC: Analyzing Current Scenario

Constitutional Validity of Section 124A IPC: Analyzing Current Scenario
- Ajay Kataria, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar National Law University, Sonepat

There has been a rapid growth in the cases of Sedition during the last decade. Every citizen residing in India possess the freedom to speech & expression their own views which is provided under Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution. But, this freedom is not absolute & comes up with some reasonable restrictions as mentioned under Article 19 (2) of the Constitution. But, do we realize expressing your views or speaking something in a contemptuous way lead to penalization? Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, says that if an individual either by spoken, signs or even by representation does an act which held to be contemptuous towards the Government of India is said to have committed the offence of Sedition which is punishable under Section 124A of IPC, 1860. The section is considered as reasonable restrictions for freedom of speech & expression under article 19 (2). 

As the provision of Section 124A is very vast & it deals with the act of defaming the government but exclude if it\'s done in good faith of any particular act carried out by the administration.

Evolution of Sedition in India

The essence of the term Sedition is that it is a speech or conduct that can result in the insurrection against the power or the authority of a state. Lord Thomas Macaulay first introduced & drafted the term of Sedition in 1870. 

It can be said that the genesis of Sedition Law in India is connected with the 19th century movement of Wahabis (Wahabis Movement), an Islamic movement led by Syed Ahmed Barelvi. The Wahabis Movement was active from the time of 1830 but, in wake of the 1857 revolt the movement led into an armed resistance (jihad) against the British. Then the Britishers termed Wahabis as rebel & it led to the military operation of British against the Wahabis. 

Section 124A was not the part or was not covered under IPC, 1860 during the British Era, according to British (Era) Law Sedition was considered as an "attempt to excite the feeling of disaffection". Sedition was adopted in IPC by the IPC (amendment) act, 1870, later replaced by Section 124A by the 1898 amending act.

Features of Sedition (Grounds for Sedition)

In India it\'s a highly debatable topic that on what grounds sedition can be charged or what activities constitute of Seditious nature. As per the IPC an act is said to be of Seditious nature if:

1.The act either by spoken, written or sign language (includes visual representation).

2.Brings hatred or disaffection or contemptuous against the Government.

3.It results in public disorder or imminent violence.

In the interpretation of Section 124A by the Courts an act is Seditious in nature if:

1.Raising of slogans by the individuals that are against the government or can bring hatred for the government for example the Khalistan Slogans, Free Kashmir etc. Exception to this case is if the slogans are raised casually once or twice.

2.A written document or work that incites public disorder or violence.

3.A speech of person can be said Seditious if it in incites violence or public disorder, subsequently causing imminent violence.

Famous trials of persons charged of Sedition in India

1. Bal Gangadhar Tilak: It was the first case when a person was charged of Sedition in India Shri Tilak was charged for Sedition not once but on twice occasions. Firstly, for his speech in 1897 which incited violence resulted in the killing of two British Officers. Secondly, when he was defending Indian revolutionaries, he then in his newspaper “Kesari” called for Swaraj (self-rule).

2. Mahatma Gandhi: He wrote 3 articles in his weekly journal "Young India" those were politically sensitive in nature thus, resulting in 6 years jail sentence for Gandhiji. 

3. Kanhaiya Kumar: The then JNUSU Leader was arrested in 2016 & charged of Sedition for inciting violence by his illicit speech that not only spread in India but all over the globe. The arrest rose political turmoil in the country due to which academicians & activists started protesting against the government.

Constitutional validity of Sedition

Ram Nandan v. State of UP, was the first case that took the notion of the Constitutionality of Section 124A. Allahabad High Court alleged that Section 124A of IPC is Ultra Vires in nature & it violates the provision of Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution. It was said that Section 124A restrict the freedom of speech & it struck out the very roots of the Constitution.

In the case of Kedarnath Singh v. State of Bihar, it was held that the law of Sedition is constitutional valid & it covered the words either by written or spoken that implicit the idea by subverting the government with an intention to create public order, the citizen are allowed to criticize the government but not in a way that it incite people to protest against the government. The Supreme Court alleged that the Section should limit acts that involve intention to create disruption of law & order or incite violence in the society. Although, if this section is used arbitrarily, it can be the violation of Article 19 of the Constitution.

In the case of Balwant Singh v. State of Punjab, Supreme Court alluded that the charges against the person under Section 124A for raising the slogans of “Khalistan Zindabad” following the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, were non-viable as the slogans that were raised neither had the intention nor it led to the incite of people & didn\'t created any law & order problem (casual raising slogan not a ground for charge under Section 124A).

A case was filed in the Supreme Court, Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras, where the petitioner pleaded that the order by Madras State for banning his paper "Cross Roads" infringed his right to freedom of speech & expression given under Article 19 (1) of the Constitution. The Supreme Court quashed the order of Madras State by stating that the restrictions of article 19 (1) is imposed only where there is problem related to security of the public is involved. Therefore, when there is no such problem is present it cannot be held constitutional & is valid.

A question may rise that is section 66(a) of IT Act 2000, restricts an individual freedom of speech & expression? In the case of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, the court held that section 66 (1) as unconstitutional & gave principles on which restriction on freedom of speech & expression, within the ambit of Article 19 (2) can be determined. 

In the recent pending case of Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha v. UOI, the petitioner two journalists charged under section 124A for publishing posts & cartoons on social media platforms have filed a writ petition challenging the Constitutional validity of the section as it violates their freedom of speech & expression. The plea states that section 124A is unnecessary & it does not protect the interest of the state & public order, is being misused due to more recent enactments so it should be declared unconstitutional. The matter is still pending in the Supreme Court it may result in a turning point for the Sedition law of India.


Though, the Constitutional validity of Sedition is still a challenging question to answer. But, it can be said that Sedition is a very serious offence which violates the provision of Article 19 of the Constitution. There is a need for amendment in Sedition Law which should expressly contain the words that can satisfy the restrictions & complement the provision of Article 19 (2). Sedition laws must be interpreted & applied in accordance to the guidelines given by the Supreme Court. As the purpose behind the Sedition Act which restricts speech, is to safeguard the National Security of the State.

References :- 

•Kunal Purohit, “Our New Database Reveals Rise in Sedition Cases During the Modi Era” (Article 14, 23 May 2021) <> accessed on 18 July 2021. 
•Indian Consti. Art. 19 (1)(a)
•Indian Consti. Art. 19 (2)
•Indian Penal Code 1860, S. 124A
•Siddharth Narrain, “Disaffection” & the Laws: The Chilling Effect of Sedition Law in India” (2011) 46 EPW 33.
•Nivedita Saksena & Siddhartha Srivastava, “An Analysis of the Modern Offence of Sedition” (2014) 7 NUJS Law Review 121.
•Ram Nandan v. State, 1958 SCC Online All 117
•Kedarnath Singh v. State of Bihar, 1962 Supp (2) SCR 769
•Balwant Singh v. State of Punjab, (1995) 3 SCC 214
•Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras, 1950 SCR 594
•Information Technology Act 2000, S. 66 (a)
•Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, (2015) 5 SCC 1
•Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha v. Union of India, 2021 SCC Online SC 374
•J. Sai Deepak , “Consitutional Validity of Section 124A” (The Daily Guardian, 22 May 2021) <> accessed on 19 July 2021.  

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