After it upheld the sedition law in 1962, the Supreme Court’s decision to revisit the constitutional validity of this colonial provision is a crucial inquiry. Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which defines the offence of “sedition”, penalises exciting “disaffection” against the government established by law, or bringing it into “hatred or contempt”. The sweeping nature of the provision is not just the words in the definition but also in the punishment prescribed — life imprisonment with an added fine or an additional jail term of three years. The provision was incorporated in its current form in the penal code (IPC) in 1898, nearly four decades after the IPC was introduced and has withstood the test of constitutionality since.
After at least two high courts — Punjab and Allahabad — struck down the sedition law as an exception to free speech in the 1950s, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court in Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar (1962) upheld its constitutionality. However, the SC restricted it only insofar as seditious speech tended to incite “public disorder”, a phrase the provision itself does not contain but was read into it by the Court. In its “guidelines” on using the new, restrictive definition of sedition law, the Court said not all speech with “disaffection”, “hatred,” or “contempt” against the state but only speech that is likely to incite “public disorder” would qualify as sedition. It is a welcome sign that the government, after its initial defence of the law, has told the Supreme Court that it would re-examine the provision. Read Indian Express Editorial here.