Is the Law on Sedition Compatible with Democracy ?


(Justice) R.A. Jahagirdar, a former judge of the Bombay High Court,

well-known Radical Humanist, civil libertarian and exponent of democratic

and secular values breathed his last in the morning on 23 February

2011. The whole PUCL family condoles the demise of its 82 years old

dedicated and committed leader, friend and great scholar.

– Mahi Pal Singh, Secretary, PUCL.


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Is the Law on Sedition Compatible with

Democracy? – Prabhakar Sinha (1)


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Rights Janjagran Meeting (14); The Losing

Is the Law on Sedition Compatible

with Democracy?

Prabhakar Sinha

The registering of a case of sedition against Ms Arundhati Roy, Syed

Ali Gilani etc. for their speeches made at a convention on ‘Azadi the Only

Way’ for Kashmir is bound to appall all who are committed to the core

values of democracy and human rights. It hardly makes any difference that

the case has been registered on the direction of a court and not by the

police. So long as this anti- democratic law, which is the legacy of the

colonial British government, is retained by the Republic of India, the courts

are bound to implement them. However, a plain reading of the provision on

sedition (u/s 124A of the I.P.C.) makes it clear that such laws have no

place in a democracy. It provides that ‘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’ It is obvious

that it is only an authoritarian government -foreign or local- which can make

excitement or disaffection against a government a criminal offence. Under

a democratic system, it is the normal function of the opposition parties to

create disaffection against the government with a view to oust it from power

by mobilising popular support and replace it if possible. Even groups and

individuals aggrieved by the policies of a government have the right to create

public opinion against it and campaign to dethrone it. The whole process

of opposing the existing government in a democracy is to create disaffection

against it by drawing attention to its short- comings like corruption, sell

out to certain interests – Indian or foreign-, incompetence or alleged antipeople

character. Slogans like ‘Sadi-gali Sarkar ko Ek Dhakka Aur Do’

(Give a final push to this rotten government’) ‘Singhasan Khali Karo ki

Janta Aati Hai (Vacate the throne, the people are coming’- i.e., to occupy

it) are out and out acts of sedition under the present law (u/s 124A).

The description of the elected government as ‘ the government

established by law in India ‘ in the provision also leads to the inescapable


conclusion that the draconian

provision was enacted by the colonial

government and has been retained

by the rulers of the Republic of India

to suppress the voice of dissent. In

fact, elsewhere in the Indian Penal

Code (I.P.C.), the words government

of India or the State governments

occur to refer to the Union or State

Government instead of ‘government

established by law in India’ giving

credence to the view that the

provision has been blindly retained.

Similarly S 125 of the I.P.C. has been

retained which makes’ waging war

against any Asiatic Power in alliance

with the Government of India or at

peace with Government of India’ a

criminal offence punishable with

imprisonment for life . The reference

to the Asiatic Power in alliance with

or at peace with the government of

India is the relic of the Imperial British

rule when the Imperial Government

formed alliances against its rivals

Powers. Today, there are no entities

known as Asiatic Powers and India

is not in alliance with any such

power. India, after independence, has

been one of the chief architects of

the Non-aligned Movement and

continues to be at peace with all

countries. The repressive relic of the

Imperial British Government

continues to be retained by the rulers

of democratic India and may be

misused also.

The law in its present form also

obliterates the distinction between

the State and the Government. It is

an indisputable fact that the State is

permanent and sovereign, but the

government is neither sovereign nor

permanent. The Indian State would

continue to exist while the

government may go on changing.

Thus, to oppose a government,

attack its policies and carry on a

campaign to alienate the people from

it to oust it by legitimate means is

the right of a people in a democracy,

and it cannot be misconstrued as


Thus, the government or some

people may consider Ms Arundhati

Roy’s view that Azadi is the only

solution of Kashmir problem

seriously flawed and for her view is a

nail in our democracy’s coffin apart

from being illogical. How does

speaking in favour of Azadi for

Kashmir attract S 124 A of the I.P.C.?

Is it an act of bringing the Government

of India into hatred or contempt or

creating disaffection against it? To

support Azadi for Kashmir -rightly or

wrongly- is only to oppose the

Kashmir policy of the Government of

India which every Indian has the right

to do. It is a problem created by the

rulers who not only failed to win the

mind and the hearts of the peaceful

people of Kashmir but have alienated

a large number of people and created

the present mess. After creating this

problem, they have no moral or legal

right to ask the people not to discuss

it and mind their own business. After

all, it is our brethren- Kashmiris and

the others- who are dying there, it is

our resources which are being used

and misused there, and it is our heart

which bleeds at every death of an

innocent Indian on either side in this

domestic conflict, and it is our right

and also the duty to join the search

for a solution without any threat from

the government. In a democracy, the

people have the right to discuss and

their representatives the right to


The anachronistic imperial law

on sedition is a direct attack on our

freedom of speech and expression

guaranteed by the Constitution and

should be scrapped forthwith.




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