Consultation on Sedition Laws

A consultation organised by the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion (CSSE), National Law School of India University (NLSIU) and the Alternative Law Forum (ALF), Bangalore

In the wake of the conviction of Dr. Binayak Sen under Section 124A of the IPC and charges of sedition filed against Arundhati Roy, Varavara Rao and S.A.R. Geelani, the debate on the relevance of the law on sedition has found a new and urgent voice. The particular injustice of convicting a person who has merely exercised his constitutional right to freedom of expression has focussed the nation’s attention on the colonial legacy of the sedition offence.

Section 124A was introduced by the British in 1870 and amended in 1898. It was one of the many draconian laws that were enacted to stifle any voices of dissent at that time. Gandhiji was prescient in recognising the fundamental threat it provided to democracy when he called it the ‘prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen.’ What the law does is to criminalises those who “bring into hatred or contempt, or excite or attempt to excite disaffection” towards the state. The law, however, carves out an exception for disapprobation or criticism of the government that does not lead to exciting hatred, contempt, or disaffection. Some of the most prominent persons charged with sedition under this law include Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mohandas Gandhi. The Supreme Court of India in the Kedar Nath case has upheld the constitutional validity of the law, but clearly distinguished between disloyalty to the Government and commenting upon the measures of the government without inciting public disorder by acts of violence. The judges also observed that if the sedition law were to be given a wider interpretation, it would not survive the test of constitutionality. However, in practice, the sedition law continues to be used against dissenting voices including journalists, writers, intellectuals, and human rights activists across the country.

The time seems apposite to have a discussion on this outdated offence and move in a concrete sense towards repealing or amending the law. By so doing we would be ridding Indian democracy of a provision that has no place in a country that prides itself on a Constitution that guarantees to all its citizens the fundamental right to dissent.

The objective of the Consultation is to discuss
• The experience with the sedition law in India and how it is being used to target journalists, intellectuals, writers, human rights activists and critics of the government
• Analyse the sedition offence within the framework of the Constitution
• Engage with comparative jurisdictional experiences on sedition and law reform
• Examine the sedition law within the frame of international law

Based upon these viewpoints, the consultation will aim to make out a case for either the repeal or the amendment of the law through a policy paper which can serve as the basis for a law reform effort by concerned parliamentarians or members of civil society.

Date: January 29th, 2011 (Saturday)

Venue and Address: Training Centre, National Law School of India University, Nagarbhavi, Bangalore 560072


9.30 a.m.- Registration

10.00 a.m.: Introductory Remarks: Dr. S. Japhet (Coordinator, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion, National Law School of India University, Bangalore)

Session I: 10:15 a.m. to 11.30: The Historical Context of the Offence of Sedition

Chair: Professor Hasan Mansoor, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Karnataka

Speaker: Ujjwal Kumar Singh (Professor, Department of Political Science, Hindu College, University of Delhi. Prof Singh is also the author of two highly acclaimed books “Political Prisoners in India” and “The State, Democracy and Anti-Terror Laws in India”)

Title: Rajdroha in Colonial and Postcolonial Times

Speaker: Siddharth Narrain (Legal Researcher, Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore)

Title: Disaffection and the Law: A History of Sedition Laws in India

Session II: 11-45 – 1.30 “Will the Law of Sedition be the Death of Free Speech?”

Chair: Chair: Arvind Narrain, Alternative Law Forum

Speaker: Jawahar Raja (Advocate, Delhi)

Title: Criminalising Speech: Suspect Communities and Excepted Persons

Speaker: Jagadeesha B.N. (Advocate, Bangalore)

Title: Dissent and the Laws of Sedition: The Karnataka Experience

1.30- 2:30 pm – Lunch

Session III : 2:30 pm- 3:30 p.m.- Comparative Jurisdictions: The Status of Sedition in Other Countries

Chair: Siddharth Narrain, Alternative Law Forum

Speakers: Kalyani Ramnath and Akila R.S. (Visiting Faculty, National Law School of India University, Bangalore)

Title: Sedition Laws: Global Trends, International Experiences

Final Session

3.30- 5.30 – The Way Forward

Written by
Tarunabh Khaitan
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