In April 2021, the Supreme Court admitted a writ petition challenging the constitutionality of S. 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 that defines and criminalises sedition. Last week on the 31st of May, 2021, the Court heard Aamoda Broadcasting Company Pvt. Ltd & Anr v. The State of Andhra Pradesh. TV5 and ABN Andhrajyoti (two news channels) were charged with sedition for broadcasting ‘offending speeches’ made by a YSR Congress lawmaker. The Court in its order said that the scope of sedition needs to be examined regarding its applicability to media. A few days ago on 3rd June, 2021 the Supreme Court quashed a sedition charge filed against journalist Vinod Dua. The Court relied on Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar, where it was held that criticism of the government was essential to the functioning of a democracy.
With these latest developments around sedition before the Supreme Court, the debates around the constitutionality, relevance and misuse of sedition has become prominent in public discourse.
In this post we curate a list of must reads that look into the history of sedition law, trace its evolution before the Courts and examine its application in the Indian context.
Atul Dev, in the Caravan, discusses the history of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The political scenario in each prominent instance of a sedition charge reflects the history of abuse of this provision. The article discusses the very first case of sedition in India, along with the charges against Tilak, Gandhi and Kedar Nath Singh.
In EPW, Siddharth Narrain traces various charges of sedition against individuals in both pre and post independent India. He traces the rationale behind the conviction of prominent freedom fighters such as Tilak and Gandhi and the effect of colonial rule on the interpretation of sedition. The article traces its evolution in independent India and the chilling effect it has on the freedom of speech and expression.
The Scroll examines the history of suppression of media in Andhra Pradesh to suggest that the charge against the new channels are politically motivated. The existence of sedition law has allowed political leaders to silence opposing media houses. The article discusses how the present case is bringing to light the suppression of media in the Telugu states.
Kunal Purohit in Article 14 does an empirical analysis of the number of sedition cases filed in India between 2010 and 2020. The study finds that there has been a 28% increase in the number of sedition cases between 2014 and 2020. Purohit argues that this reflects an increased abuse of the provision.
In this SC Observer piece, we discuss the various instances where the constitutionality of sedition was brought before the courts in India. The Punjab and Haryana High Court and the Allahabad High Court had deemed it unconstitutional in 1950 and 1959 respectively. However, in 1962, the Supreme Court accepted the applicability of sedition in instances where there is a likelihood of violence. The matter was brought before the Supreme Court in 2016 and 2021 again to no avail. The article discusses the ratio of the courts in each instance.
EPW documents a speech made by the former Chief Justice A.P Shah regarding free speech and sedition. Justice Shah notes that the curbing of various points of view and opinions raises the ‘danger of a single story’. He also notes that charging activists, journalists and dissenters with sedition stops one from engaging with the underlying concerns raised by such persons. He argues that uniformity of opinion is detrimental to a functioning democracy.