Sedition in India: A ready reckoner

Binayak Sen's imprisonment on charges of sedition led to a worldwide protest Photograph:( Getty )

WION Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India Aug 16, 2016, 12.42 PM (IST)

What the law states

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 established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years,  to which fine may be added, or with fine.

Explanation 1— The expression “disaffection” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.

Explanation 2— Comments expressing disapproval of the measures of the government with a view to obtaining their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.

Explanation 3 — Comments expressing disapproval of the administrative or other action of the Government, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.


1860: The sedition law didn't feature in the original draft of the Indian penal code as drafted by Thomas Macaulay, the leading member of the law commission in India

1870: Sedition law (S124-A) incorporated in the Indian penal code

1891: First case: Trial of Jogendra Chandra Bose, the editor of Bangabasi, for criticising the Age of Consent Bill. Proceedings dropped after he apologised

1897: Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the prominent Indian nationalist from Bombay Presidency (present day Maharashtra state), was charged with incitement speech which, the British government of India claimed, led to the murder of two police officers - Commissioner WC Rand and Lieutenant Ayherst - who were heading the Special Plague Committee at that time. Tilak was sent to prison for 18 months

1908: In his newspaper Kesari, Tilak defended two young revolutionaries Prafulla Chaki and Khudiram Bose who threw a bomb onto a carriage and killed two women instead the Chief Presidency Magistrate Douglas Kingsford

1908-1914: Tilak was sentenced to prison at Mandalay in Burma

1922:  Mahatma Gandhi along with Shankerlal Banker - the proprietor of Young India - were slammed with sedition charges for three articles published in the weekly

1942: In the case between Niharendu Dutt Majumdar vs the King-Emperor, Chief Justice Sir Maurice Gwyer (1937-43) stated that public disorder and violence are the essential ingredients of sedition. Thus, it is a law made in the interest of public order under Article 19 (2) and hence can place a reasonable restriction on the fundamental right of freedom of speech

1947: In King-Emperor vs Sadashiv Narayan Bhalerao, the viewpoint of Maurice Gwyer was rejected by the Privy Council that relied upon Tilak's case to hold that incitement to violence was not a necessary precondition towards constituting the crime of sedition

1947-1950: Framers of the Indian Constitution did not accept the broad definition of sedition enunciated by the Privy Council in the Sadashiv Narain Bhalerao case but, instead, limited it to speech undermining the security of the State 

1950: In Tara Singh Gopi Chand vs The State, the Punjab Haryana High Court bench declared that 124-A is void, contravening the right of freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 of the Constitution

1958: Allahabad High Court in Ram Nandan vs State passed a judgment, declaring section 124-A as unconstitutional

1962: The Supreme Court of India upheld the constitutional validity of the law in Kedarnath Singh vs State of Bihar, in line with the decision in the Niharendu Dutt Majumdar case

1995:  In Balwant Singh vs the State of Punjab, the Supreme Court reversed the convictions of some men who had raised a 'Khalistan Zindabaad!' slogan on the lines that the slogans neither evoked any response nor any reaction from anyone in the public

Situation in the UK

UK had no convictions charged with the law since 1972 and finally abolished the law in 2009

New Zealand repealed the law in 2007

Overview of Sedition laws in India

Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act of 1911, which was used by the British rulers to stifle dissent, is still in India statute books 

Number of people charged with sedition in India:  At least 183 

Prominent cases of Sedition

2010: Arundhati Roy and Syed Ali Shah Geelani were booked under the sedition law for making "anti-India" speech 

2010: Binayak Sen, a doctor and human rights activist, was charged with sedition for having links with the Maoist rebels

2012: Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was arrested over his political cartoons 

2012: 11 protesters were charged for protesting against Kundankulam Nuclear Power Project

2015:  Hardik Patel was booked in Surat under the charges of sedition over alleged remarks about 'killing cops'

2016:  Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid among other Jawaharlal Nehru University students, were charged with sedition

16th August 2016: Amnesty International India is charged with sedition