Return to frontpage

Dissent & Democracy: Why the Sentinel Should Strike Down IPC Sec. 124A

Sedition laws sit at the crossroads of politics and society, and law and justice. The political nature of this “offence against the state” tests the limits of free speech a citizen can rightfully enjoy. India’s polity has changed since 1870, when Sedition was added as an offence under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to govern restive subjects of the British Crown. This stifling legislation, conceived as a colonial tool to incarcerate freedom fighters, continues to be quickly invoked by free India’s elected rulers against dissenting citizens, deeply damaging the country’s democratic fabric.

This law which chips away at the essence of republican democracy – the right to dissent – has a chequered journey in independent India starting from 1950, when courts upheld free speech. However, the First Amendment to the Constitution put a damper on such liberal judicial interventions. Since then, although judgments urged governments to exercise restraint, the latter chose to unreservedly invoke Sec. 124A to quell dissenters—including protest movements and individuals—expressing views that run afoul of ruling establishments. On May 11, 2022, the Supreme Court accepted the Union Government’s plea that it would re-examine Sec. 124A, but suspended pending criminal trials and court proceedings, and said that it “hopes and expects” Union and State governments to refrain from using this legal provision while it is under reconsideration.

In this essay, Eklavya Vasudev, a Lawyer and Doctoral candidate in Law at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany, argues the case for a well-reasoned judgment by the Supreme Court striking down Sec. 124A of the IPC in its entirety by asserting its role as the sentinel of the Constitution. Doing so, he points out, will forestall any moves by governments to abuse the law in some form or the other, be consistent with positions taken by previous Supreme Court judgments and give life to the vision of the founders of the Constitution who unanimously voted against using “sedition” to restrict free speech. On the other hand, leaving Sec. 124A as it is, narrowing its scope, or letting the government replace it with either an updated or a different legislation, will mean a judicial nod for the “sedition juggernaut to roll on in one form or the other to thwart dissent in a secular and democratic republic”.


The Law of Sedition and India: An Evolutionary Overview

Article 124A, characterised aptly by the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, as the “prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen”, has a long legal history, originating from English Law.

In this article, Saptarshi Bhattacharya, Senior Coordinator, The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, traces the journey of the law from 13th century England through the colonial rule in India and the developments in independent India to its present status where the operation of the law has been put on hold by the Supreme Court of India on May 11, 2022.

Bhattacharya throws light on the key doctrines that directed the sedition law, the manner in which it was applied to suit the times over the centuries, the judicial pronouncements that shaped its application, and the manner in which it has been easily used as a political tool to thwart dissent in free India.

Walking in Indian Cities – A Daily Agony for Millions

In India's hierarchy of roadways, its millions of pedestrians are reduced to helpless trundlers. Despite the reality that they constitute the single l

COVID-19: Urban Middle Class Survey Highlights Need for People’s Agency in Policy Making

Calamities throw a critical spotlight on state policies. As the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to mutate, governments of the world, medical researchers, c

On Rights and Duties – Two Essays

Views of leaders occupy prominent positions in the popular narrative in any society: they set a tone for political and social discourse and play a rol

Transport as a Right and the Need to Re-Orient India's SRTUs

India's road network carries close to 90 per cent of the country's passenger traffic and about 60 per cent of its freight. This sector also includes t

A Draft Bill that Cuts Maritime States Adrift

In most developed countries, ports are managed by municipal or provincial governments, with the federal government overseeing only border control, com

Sense and Sensibilities in India’s Political Discourse

India's political discourse, which reached a national characteristic during the freedom struggle, has travelled through several phases since Independe

Food Security and Markets: Understanding the Protests over India’s Changing Social Contract with Farmers

For more than 100 days now India’s farmers have protested at the Shinghu, Tikri and Ghazipur borders outside the national capital, New Delhi. Earlier,

Sewage Testing as a Pandemic Monitoring Tool

A common challenge faced by governments across the world during the COVID-19 pandemic is to identify patients affected by the virus. The two tests ado

Consumer Protection Act 2019 and Health Care Services

The Consumer Protection Act, 2019 (CPA), which came into effect on July 24, 2020, is expected to go a long way in serving the interests of consumers a

Pandemic Exposes Weaknesses in India’s Disaster Management Response

Disasters are testing times for institutions and individuals, processes and procedures, and policies and their implementation mechanisms. When COVID-1


B.V. Acharya, Senior Advocate and one of Karnataka’s eminent lawyers for several decades and five times Advocate General of the State is of the view that the investigating agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED), by their conduct, should inspire confidence in the minds of the people.
Acharya who has handled a string of corruption cases including some of them against chief ministers and senior political leaders is of the view that conferment of absolute and unchecked power to the police, the CBI or even the ED is dangerous since it may result in a "police state".
In this interview with S. Rajendran, Senior Fellow, The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, 85-year-old Acharya who actively practices in the Karnataka High Court says “democracy has survived in our country mainly because of a strong and independent judiciary. However, the situation is different today”. Excerpts: