“Khalistan Zindabad, Raj Karega Khalsa”
The Supreme Court acquitted persons who had been charged of sedition for shouting this slogan a few hours after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984.
The law of sedition was brought into existence by way of incorporating section 124A in the Indian Penal Code in the year 1870; a decade after the Code had come into existence. In Mahatma Gandhi’s words, “Section 124A, which is the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code, is specially designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen”. The offence of sedition took its birth in an era when it had become necessary for the colonial government to overpower the voice of the common man in India; a modus operandi which was adopted by the British to help it consolidate its political prowess in the subcontinent. Sedition, as incorporated in the IPC, derives its genesis from ‘The Treason Felony Act’ in England, which imposes liability upon those persons who “harbour any feeling of disloyalty towards the Queen”.
The penal offence of sedition is cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable; imposing a sentence of seven years of imprisonment upon persons found guilty of committing seditious acts. Even the Law Commission of India in its 42nd report strongly recommended certain amendments to be made to section 124A of the IPC, but all in vain. In the landmark case of Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar, a five judge Constitution Bench held that speech and expression may be punished as being seditious only if it amounts to “an incitement to violence or public disorder”. In Indra Das v. State of Assam, the Apex Court laid down the proposition that speech that unambiguously amounts to incitement to imminent lawless action solely can be penalized under section 124A of the IPC. Thus, merely advocating an opinion or expressing one’s dissent with the acts of the government cannot attract criminal liability as it violates the fundamental freedom of speech and expression under article 19 of the Constitution.
Other jurisdictions seem to have varied perspectives on the law of sedition. In the United Kingdom, sedition was abolished under section 73 of the Coroners and Justice Act, 2009 stating the reason as “sedition and defamatory libel are arcane offences from a bygone era when freedom of expression wasn’t seen as the right that it is stated to be today”. However, any seditious act committed by a resident but not a national of U.K. continues to be an offence punishable under the law. On the other hand, the United States of America, in section 2384 of the U.S. Code, defines ‘seditious conspiracy’ to include “any conspiracy to overthrow, put down or to destroy the force of the government or to levy war against them or by force to prevent, hinder or delay the execution of any law of the United States”. In New Zealand, The Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Act in 2007 was introduced, which was enforced in 2008. Even the Republic of South Korea abolished its sedition laws whilst carrying out its legal reforms in the year 1988.
Meanwhile, in India, the sedition law has been used against university lecturers, journalists and cartoonists and this makes us question whether the rights to free speech and liberty are only a constitutional mirage in the eyes of law. The insertion of section 124A in the legal context of ‘offences against the State’, along with penal provisions such as those of waging war against the State, threatens the liberty of speech and expression that is a fundamental right of every citizen in India. The recent controversy at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi has brought much furore from the media as well as members of the civil society. While it is the belief of certain sections of the society that sedition is being presented in the guise of destroying freedom of expression in order to carry out subversive and anti-national acts, such debate and discussion has persuaded the Modi government to acknowledge the fact that the definition of sedition in section 124A has a wide legal ambit and has, in light of the same, requested the Law Commission of India to review the same. Even the current Rajya Sabha is of the opinion that it is high time for sedition, a relic of the colonial rule, to be abolished. Thus, it is only a matter of time that sedition would unanimously be viewed as a tool used by the government to suppress dissent, protest and criticism of its political decisions so that the right amendments can be suitably made to rectify the same.
 Mohandas Gandhi, Famous Speeches by Mahatma Gandhi; Great Trial of 1922, Gandhian Institute Bombay Sarvodaya Mandai and Gandhi Research Foundation, available at www.mkgandhi.org/speeches, accessed on March 1st, 2016.
 W.R Donogh, A Treatise on the Law of Sedition and Cognate Offences in British India; Penal and Preventive, Thakker, Spink and Co. Calcutta (1911).
 GandhiServe Foundation Mahatma Gandhi Research and Media Service, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, available at http://www.gandhiserve.org/e/, accessed on March 2nd, 2016.
 Indian Sedition Law: What is it and what does it say, India Today, available at http://indiatoday.intoday.in/education/story/indian-sedition-law/1/597316.html , accessed on Feb 16th. 2016.
 Rajindar Sachar, Repeal the Sedition Law, Kashmiri Observer, available at https://kashmirobserver.net/2016/opinions/repeal-sedition-law-4131, accessed on Feb 20, 2016.
 AIR 1962 SC 955.
  4 S.C.R. 289.
 Prasun Sonwalkar, Sedition Law in UK abolished in 2009, continues in India, Hindustan Times, available at http://www.hindustantimes.com/world/sedition-law-in-uk-abolished-in-2009-continues-in-india/story-Pkrvylv6J0T3ddY8uqvKsO.html, accessed on March 5th, 2016.
 Section 2384, U.S. Code.