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

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. (12.5 Marks)

(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 established order.

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 prison.

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 threat.

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.


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