India, the largest democracy in the world, is often seen as the epitome of a delicate balance between freedom and security. While democratic principles honour the right to freedom of speech, they also demand the safeguarding of national security and the preservation of public order. It has always been an everlasting challenge for the government to strike the right balance between these two. Among various tools, the key to achieve this balance is the use of sedition law.

Origin of Sedition Law in India

The origin of Sedition Law in India dates back to the Colonial Era. The British Colonial administration introduced Section 124A in the Indian Penal Code of 1870, giving birth to the Sedition Laws on the Indian soil. The primary intent of this law was to suppress any form of dissent to the British rule, making it a powerful arsenal in the hands of the Colonial authorities. Sedition Laws became the ideogram of the British suppression.

The Sedition Law was extensively used against the freedom fighters such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak, J.C. Bose, and M.K. Gandhi who were subject to imprisonment under this draconian law. This law, in post-independent India, restricts the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression, as guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution.

Understanding Sedition

Sedition is a criminal offense as defined by Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1870, which makes it unlawful to ‘incite’ or ‘attempt to incite’ disaffection against the Government established by law.

According to Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1870, “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India shall be punished with [imprisonment for life], to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”

In Mahatma Gandhi’s view, this particular section was

 “the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen.”

Furthermore, during his trial, Gandhi stated in his speech, that,

 “Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. If one has no affection for a person or system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote, or incite to violence.”

Sedition Law Today

With the escalating political polarization and growing distrust in the nation’s political landscape, the authorities have been weaponizing the said law as a tool to suppress dissent and curtail freedom of expression, especially targeting their political rivals.

Sedition cases have been on the rise day by day increasing distress in the country, eroding the right to speech. Amidst these circumstances, the Hon’ble Supreme Court backed the citizen’s liberty to speech and expression with an exhilarated judgement, temporarily suspending the implementation of the sedition law in the case of S.G. Vombatkere v. Union of India [Writ Petition(C) No.552 OF 2021].

This case is the result of a sequence of legal precedents that have molded sedition jurisprudence in India. The first significant post-independence case questioning the constitutionality of the sedition provision was Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar (1962 AIR 955), wherein the Supreme Court clarified that only expressions with the intent to incite violence or having the tendency to do so could be punishable under Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code.

However, this judgment had limited impact, encouraging the Hon’ble Supreme Court to issue a set of guidelines on how authorities should handle sedition cases in the case of Common Cause v. Union of India [Writ Petition (Civil) No. 215 OF 2005]. Additionally, the Allahabad High Court, in its ruling on the case of Inayat Altaf Shekh v. State of U.P [Criminal MISC. Bail Application No. – 53115 of 2021], highlighted the misuse of sedition laws in India, such as instances involving students’ slogans during an India-Pakistan cricket match, which were seen as detrimental to national unity.

The case of S.G. Vombatkere (supra) has been influenced by prior legal precedents and notable events that have provoked public debate in our nation for several years. A panel composed of the then Hon’ble Chief Justice of India Mr. N.V. Ramana along with Hon’ble Mr. Justice Surya Kant and Hon’ble Mr. Justice Hima Kohli, has convened to review petitions challenging the validity of the sedition law to provide a clearer understanding of the application of these legal provisions. In this particular case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India issued instructions pertaining to Section 124A., instructing both the Central and State governments to abstain from filing new FIRs, pursuing on-going investigations, or implementing coercive measures under Section 124A while it is being revaluated.

Therefore, on May 11, 2022, the court, in its ruling on the case, suspended the sedition law until further notice. The court also emphasized its expectation that the Government refrain from initiating any new sedition cases while the law is under review. In the event, that a new case is filed, the concerned parties are permitted to approach the court for appropriate action. Additionally, this ruling applies to all pending cases, encompassing appeals, trials, and proceedings related to sedition charges.


In a nation as diverse and dynamic as India, the sedition law represents a complex challenge in balancing freedom and security. The recent suspension of this law by the Supreme Court in the case of S.G. Vombatkere v. Union of India (supra) serves as a pivotal moment in the on-going struggle for democratic values.

This decision acknowledges the need to protect the rights of the citizens’ to dissent and free expression while ensuring that any threat to national security is handled with prudence. It marks a significant step toward recalibrating the application of sedition laws in a modern, democratic India.

As the nation evolves, so must its laws. The Hon’ble Supreme Court’s guidance offers hope for a future where the delicate equilibrium between freedom and security can be maintained, and where dissenting voices are not silenced but rather embraced as an integral part of a thriving democracy.

Author – Shantanu Garg (Associate)

Co – Author – Gulnar Arora.