The Offence of Sedition- Does India really need it?
University Institute of Legal Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh
“I have no desire whatsoever to conceal from this court the fact that to preach disaffection towards the existing system of Government has almost become a passion with me,” declared Mahatma Gandhi in 1922, while pleading guilty to sedition as charged. “Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law,” he went on to say memorably, describing Section 124A as the “prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress liberty of the citizen.” If Gandhi thought it was a “privilege” to be charged under Section 124A, it was because “some of the most loved of India’s patriots have been convicted under it” — most famously, Bal Gangadhar Tilak who, when prosecuted for his speeches and writings twice, asked each time whether he was guilty of committing sedition against the British government or against the people of the country. That this is an archaic colonial-era law that has no place in any democracy that values freedom of expression was recognised by no less than Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who told Parliament in 1951 that he found Section 124A “highly objectionable and obnoxious.” “The sooner we got rid of it the better,” was his opinion of the broad and inexact provision that punishes those who, by use of words, signs or visible representation, “bring into hatred or contempt” or “excite disaffection” towards the government with a maximum of life imprisonment.