10 Must-Reads on Sedition Law in India

SCO's list of must-reads captures all the facets of the sedition debate—and of ongoing litigation on sedition across Courts.

On May 11th 2022, a three-Judge Bench consisting of Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana and Justices Surya Kant  and Hima Kohli delivered an unexpected Order. The Bench deferred hearings on the constitutionality of sedition so that the Union government could complete the process of ‘re-examining the law’. To ensure no misuse of the law in the meanwhile, the Bench ordered that no new FIRs should be filed under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC), and that all pending investigations should be paused. 

S 124A is a pre-Independence law which criminalises sedition, or speech spreading ‘disaffection’ against the government. Sedition has a long and contentious history in India—lawyers, Judges, activists, academics, and Constitution-makers have all debated on whether, and in what form, the law should remain in independent India. This list of must-reads captures all the facets of this debate—and of ongoing litigation on sedition across Courts.

Vineeth Krishna, writing for the CADIndia Project, explains how sedition was dropped as an exception to the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression from the Draft Constitution of India, 1948. Krishna asks if the current case before the Supreme Court will bring it a step closer to striking down the law from the IPC as well.

In The Caravan, Atul Dev discusses the history of s 124A. The political scenario foregrounding each prominent sedition charge reflects the provision’s historical abuse. The article discusses the very first case of sedition in India, along with the charges levied against the likes of B.G. Tilak, M.K. Gandhi, and Kedar Nath Singh. 

In a concise timeline, Malavika Parthasarathy, writing for Supreme Court Observer, traces the evolution of sedition law and the significant cases that shaped its contours in colonial and post-independence India. 

Writing for the Economic and Political Weekly, Siddharth Narrain interrogates the colonial notion that citizens must feel affection for the government—and its place in a democratic society. Narrain examines significant sedition cases, arguing that the law has a chilling effect on free speech and expression. 

For Supreme Court Observer, Satya Prasoon analyses the Supreme Court’s 2021 Judgment quashing the sedition FIR against seasoned journalist Vinod Dua. Prasoon argues that while favourable, the Judgment missed the opportunity of addressing a frequently ignored contradiction in the Court’s sedition jurisprudence. The Court must use the public law remedy of compensation to deter police misuse of the sedition, says Prasoon. 

How have sedition laws fared in the United Kingdom and the United States over the years? What circumstances led to their repeal in these jurisdictions? Gauri Kashyap, writing for Supreme Court Observer, compares sedition provisions across common law countries. 

Analysing Article 14’s painstakingly curated database of all sedition cases filed in India since 2010, Kunal Purohit notes a 28% increase in the use of the provision since 2014, indicating increasing abuse of power. Article 14’s archive is an invaluable resource that plugs the gap of scant data on the use of sedition laws in contemporary times. 

Supreme Court Observer’s Aarathi Ganesan and Ayushi Saraogi break down the Supreme Court’s Order ‘expecting’ the Union and States to halt all sedition cases until Parliament has re-examined the law. They argue that while the Order offers qualified hope for sedition-accused, its ambiguous wording leaves scope for misinterpretation. 

The Economic and Political Weekly documents a speech on free speech and sedition by former Delhi High Court Chief Justice A.P Shah. Shah J argues that uniformity of opinion is detrimental to a functioning democracy. He notes that charging activists, journalists, and dissenters with sedition stops one from engaging with the underlying concerns raised by such persons. 

Supreme Court Observer’s sedition case archive is updated with all the information you need on the challenge to the constitutionality of Section 124A at the Supreme Court. The only public record of every petition and key document filed in the challenge, SCO’s Court Reporter provides courtside reports of every hearing in the case in real-time.