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Updated: Nov 25, 2021


The continued existence of 19th century British-imposed sedition law in the penal code of modern independent India strikes as a baffling contradiction. In 1951 Jawaharlal Nehru had famously said of the sedition law that “the sooner we get rid of it the better”. Yet 70 years later it is still being employed liberally by successive central and state governments to crush dissent and political opposition.

In contemporary India social activists, academics, journalists, opposition politicians and students tend to be the frequent targets booked under this law, which carries a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. While convictions are rare, India’s notoriously slow legal system ensures years of harassment for those accused of sedition.

Numerous court judgements have advised restraint on its use and aimed to limit its scope, but have held up its constitutionality. It’s supporters argue it’s usefulness in combatting terrorism and ensuring the nation’s territorial integrity, while its critics point to other legal provisions that can address those concerns and argue that its very existence intimidates critics into silence and encourages self-censorship.

Now the Supreme Court has once again agreed to examine the constitutional validity of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which criminalises sedition.

We think this is an opportune time to have an open and honest debate on whether India, which prides itself as the world’s largest democracy, still needs this draconian law devised 150 years ago by a colonial government to suppress its subjects?

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