GS Mains Model Question & Answer: Discuss India’s sedition
law (Section 124A of IPC) as one of the biggest threats to the freedom of speech
and expression in India.
Q. Discuss India’s sedition law (Section 124A of IPC)
as one of the biggest threats to the freedom of speech and expression in India.
(General Studies Mains Paper II- Polity: Fundamental Rights)
Model Answer :
Right to Free Speech
Freedom of expression is protected under the Indian constitution and
international treaties to which India is a party. Successive governments have
made commitments to protect freedom of expression.
Free speech is a means to the truth; a pursuit of individual
self-fulfilment and an important means by which democratic self-governance is
made possible. Its role in personal, social and political life inevitably brings
it into conflict with the state, with diverse shades of opinions in the
marketplace of ideas and the ways in which free expression impacts the
In a modern democracy like India definitely there could be
difference of opinion but the beauty of democratic discourse lies in
accommodating multiple views, debates and discussions. “Hate Speech” is freedom
of speech to the extent that the language used does not incite or encourage
violence or violation of the law.
The Sedition Law
The sedition law, section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC),
is a colonial-era law that was once used against political leaders seeking
independence from British rule. The law allows a maximum punishment of life in
It prohibits any signs, visible representations, or words,
spoken or written, that can cause “hatred or contempt, or excite or attempt to
excite disaffection” toward the government. This language is vague and overbroad
and violates India’s obligations under international law, which prohibit
restrictions on freedom of expression on national security grounds unless they
are strictly construed, and necessary and proportionate to address a legitimate
In February 2016, police in Delhi arrested Kanhaiya Kumar, a
student union leader at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, after members of the
student wing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused him of making
anti-national speeches during a meeting organized on campus.
In May 2012, for example, police in Tamil Nadu filed sedition complaints
against thousands of people who had peacefully protested the construction of a
nuclear power plant in Kudankulam.
In September 2012, the authorities in Mumbai arrested
political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi on sedition charges after a complaint that
his cartoons mocked the Indian constitution and national emblem. The charges
were dropped a month later following public protests and furor on social media.
In March 2014, authorities in Uttar Pradesh charged over 60 Kashmiri students
with sedition for cheering for Pakistan in a cricket match against India.
In October 2015, authorities in Tamil Nadu state arrested
folk singer S. Kovan under the sedition law for two songs that criticized the
state government for allegedly profiting from state-run liquor shops at the
expense of the poor.
Limitations of Free Speech
Lies and blatant anti-national statements are something we
simply shouldn’t ever tolerate, even under free speech. Our freedom ends where
the other’s start. One must be free to give his or her opinions with coherence
and respect, but this must be consequent with the sensitivity of people. To use
our freedom, we must respect the other’s freedom as well.
Amendment in Sedition Law
The Ministry of Home Affairs has written to the Ministry of
Law and Justice to request the Law Commission of India to study the usage of the
provisions of the Section 124A (Sedition) of IPC and suggest amendments, if any.
The matter is under consideration of the Law Commission of India.