Sedition is the act of either causing or participating in a rebellion or uprising against the established authority of a government through speech, writing, or other forms of expression to encourage discontent, hatred, or disaffection towards the government or its policies. The term “sedition law” refers to a set of legislation that punishes speech or behaviour that is regarded to pose a risk to national security or governmental authority. Sedition is covered by Section 124A of the IPC, which is heavily criticised for its misapplication as it is said that it is used solely to suppress political opposition. Which therefore hinders people from their right to free speech and expression.


Sedition laws were brought up in 1837 in England by Thomas Macaulay, a British historian-politician. Under British rule, the government’s orders prevailed over any public opinion as common people were considered illiterate and their opinions were considered detrimental to the Queen’s monarchy.

The Indian Penal Code, of 1860[1] never contained laws related to sedition until 1870 when Section 124A was inserted into the Indian Penal Code by an amendment introduced by James Stephen. 


The marginal note of Section 124A of the I.P.C. uses the word “Sedition.” The Section criminalises inciting hatred or contempt towards the Government by stating that, “Whoever attempts to cause hatred or contempt towards the Government established by due procedure of law in India shall be punished.”

The government has the authority to confiscate items that are punished under Section 124A of the IPC on specific conditions under Section 95 of the Criminal Procedure Code[3], 1973 (“Cr.P.C.”). Two conditions must be met for this section. First, the material must be punishable under Section 124-A, and second, the government must justify why it believes the item should be forfeited under that provision.[4]


Jogendra Chunder Bose versus Queen Empress (1891)[5]

In British India in 1891, there was a legal issue known as Jogendra Chunder Bose v. the Queen Empress. A wealthy Indian businessman named Jogendra Chunder Bose was involved in the case and was charged with contempt of court. Bose was accused of releasing a piece that was considered to be offensive to the British Indian judicial system. He was found guilty and given a prison term, but he challenged the decision to London’s Privy Council. In the end, the Privy Council supported the conviction, concluding that Bose had acted contemptuously.

This case is important because it illustrates the conflicts that existed between the British colonial administration and its Indian subjects in late 19th-century India as well as the restrictions placed on the right to free speech and expression. Jogendra Bose questioned the Age of Consent Act of 1891 in a piece of writing. His criticism was seen as an insult to the establishment. But after he was given bail, the case was finally withdrawn.

Trial for Sedition of Lokmanya Tilak (1897)[6]

Based on his speeches and publications that were critical of British rule and intended to rally the public in favour of Indian independence, Bal Gangadhar Tilak was accused of sedition. Tilak was found guilty by the Bombay High Court in 1897 for his remarks during a Shivaji festival in Pune, which were said to have inspired the killing of two British policemen.

Professor Karkaria presented his work to the Bombay Royal Asiatic Society in 1894, and Bal Gangadhar Tilak recounted the occasion, which led to the publication of an article by the professor. This publication enabled the annual Shivaji Coronation ceremony. The reports of the events were later made public by Tilak. He called these celebrations “Shivaji’s Utterances” in his periodicals Kesari and Mahratta.

The hearings were presided over by Justice Arthur Strachey. Because it was an attempt to promote enmity against the government, which was deemed seditious and brought under the jurisdiction of Section 124A, this sedition trial is notable in history. By extending the definition of “disaffection” to include disloyalty, Section 124A’s meaning was improved. Tilak received a harsh 18-month prison term as punishment.

Trial for Sedition of Lokmanya Tilak (1908)[7]

“The Country’s Misfortune,” which ran on May 12, 1908, and “These Remedies Are Not Lasting,” which appeared on June 9, 1908, were two Kesari articles authored by Tilak in support of the Bengal revolutionaries. Bal Gangadhar Tilak was then sentenced to six years of transportation and exile to Mandalay, Burma, once more for sedition.

Less well known is the fact that Tilak’s third sedition case was considered as a result of speeches he gave in Marathi under the sponsorship of the Historical Research Society on the subject of home rule in Belgaum on May 1 and later in Ahmednagar on May 31 and June 1, 1916. Eventually, he was the subject of proceedings under Section 108 of the then CrPC.

Gandhiji’s Trial for Seditious Speech (1922)

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was accused of seditious activity and put on trial in 1922 before the Sessions Court at Bhadra, Gujarat, because of his politically charged essays published in the “Young India” periodical.

Gandhi presented a statement out loud at the trial outlining the background of his animosity towards the British administration. He claimed that Section 124A of the IPC violated citizens’ rights to freedom of speech and assembly and that “affection [towards the government] could not be manufactured.” Gandhi was found guilty in the court trial and was sent to prison for six years.

JNU sedition case (2016)[8]

In the 2016 Jawaharlal Nehru University sedition case, Ten people, along with the student leaders Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya Kumar of JNU were indicted under sections 124A, 323, 465, 471, 147, 120B. In the chargesheet submitted in the case, the police said that Kanhaiya Kumar had organised a parade and encouraged others to raise seditious slogans in the college, as part of a commemoration of the hanging of Afzal Guru, the perpetrator of the Parliament assault.

Disha Ravi tool kit case (2021)[9]

Disha Ravi, a climate activist from Bengaluru, was arrested by Delhi Police on grounds of sedition, fostering hostility, and criminal conspiracy under the IPC due to her alleged connection with a toolkit on the farmer protests during the early 2021 demonstrations by farmers.

The High Court of Delhi granted her release after her arrest, stating that the offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of governments. The Delhi Police’s accusation that she was part of a large conspiracy to cause violence in the national capital on January 26 was rejected by the trial court by giving her bail.


Laws against seditious speech have a long history and have drawn criticism and debate. Some claim that such laws are required to maintain a country’s stability and integrity, stop the unrest, and shield citizens from divisive beliefs and provocation. They think it’s acceptable to restrict some types of expression to preserve societal harmony and advance the greater good. On the other hand, detractors of sedition laws contend that they are easily abused and can be employed as a tool to silence political opposition and dissent. They argue that these rules may violate the fundamental right to free speech and limit people’s capacity to criticise the government or express their thoughts.

Laws vary and evolve along with cultures. To make sure that these laws are in keeping with societal ideals and global human rights standards, legislators and legal systems must examine and update these laws regularly. Differentiating between genuine dissent and seditious speech is necessary to strike the proper balance between preserving national security and preserving freedom of expression; this is a complex task that demands careful study.

Author’s Name: Prachi Ratanpriya (Kirit P. Mehta School of Law, Mumbai)

[1] Indian Penal Code. 1860, s 124A

[2] Karthikeyan S, ‘Explained: India’s ‘colonial’ Sedition law – origins, govt abuse & courts’ take on it’ The Hindu, 3 May 2022

[3] Criminal Procedure Code. 1973, s 95

[4] S. Pachauri, ‘An analysis of sedition law in India’ [2017]

[5] Jogendra Chunder Bose vs. Queen Empress [1892] ILR 19 Cal 35

[6] Queen-Empress v. Bal Gangadhar Tilak & Keshav Mahadev Bal, (1897) ILR 22 Bom 112.

[7] Emperor vs Bal Gangadhar Tilak [1908] 10 BOMLR 848

[8] Kanhaiya Kumar v State of NCT of Delhi (2016) Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 558/2016

[9] State v. Disha A. Ravi Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 2297/2021 


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