Freedom of Speech and expression: Creativity and Sedition Law


Author: Mimansha Singh, Dharmashastra National Law University, Jabalpur


The fundamental right to free speech and expression gives every citizen the right to express his or her views freely. Article 19(a) of the Indian Constitution provides protection to freedom of speech and expression. In a democratic country like India it is important that government and people work together to ensure the free and efficient free speech. 

Nowadays, there is an increase in the cases related to freedom of speech and expression. Freedom of speech and expression allows everyone to express freely. This right is not absolute but also consists of certain reasonable restriction.

Freedom to express leads to freedom to be creative. Creativity refers to presenting the opinions, views etc of the artists in the various forms such as paintings, sand arts, movies, cartoons, comedy etc. Presently various comic artists, stand-up comedians have provided limelight to the concept of creativity and sedition law in India.

What is sedition law?

Sedition law is defined in Indian Penal Code. Section 124A says —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.

It is important to understand firstly the expression behind this law. This section punishes those who try to bring any hatred towards government through words signs or representations. Here disaffection refers to the disloyalty or creating enmity towards government. This law is always in controversy. Some say government use this law in their favor and punish those who oppose them. This law was enacted by Thomas Macaulay in 1870 against the wahabi activity which posed challenge to colonial government. Later it was introduced in IPC as section 124A by Sir James Stephen in 1870. This law has been always controversial due to its nature. In British era government used this law against Indians fighting for freedom. Gandhi ji was booked under it for publishing three articles which created disaffection towards government. He declared this law as a tool to “suppress liberty of citizens” and Jawaharlal Nehru described it as “Highly objectionable and obnoxious” .According to National Crimes Bureau in 2014 nearly 47 sedition cases were reported from which many of them had not incited any violence . This shows how this law is used by government to fulfill its demand to punish the person who shows dissenting opinions leading to curbing the freedom of expression. 

Creativity is a broader concept. It is difficult and inhumane to limit someone’s creativity. Law only confers us the power to interrogate various forms and identify what can be declared as legal and illegal.  Creativity comes out through the opinions of individual.

Related Cases:

In Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar Section 124A and Article 19(a) were together discussed. It concluded that only those expressions which really holds tendency to incite or cause violence is punishable under sec 124A. In this case ‘disaffection’ towards the government was defined. Justice Petheram defined it as “a feeling contrary to affection, in other words, dislike or hatred” and included disloyalty towards the Government. 

In Nazir Khan v. State of Delhi word ‘sedition’ was defined by court as Sedition is a wrongdoing against society almost partnered to that of conspiracy, and it habitually goes before injustice by a short span. Sedition in itself is a far reaching term, and it accepts each one of those practices, regardless of whether by word, deed, or composing, which are determined to upset the serenity of the State, and lead oblivious people to try to undercut the Government and laws of the country. The objects of sedition by and large are to instigate discontent and uprising, and work up resistance to the Government, and bring the organization of equity into disdain; and the actual propensity of sedition is to affect individuals to insurgence and disobedience. "Sedition has been portrayed as unfaithfulness in real life, and the law considers as sedition each one of those practices which have for their item to energize discontent or disappointment, to make public unsettling influence, or to prompt common battle; to bring into disdain or scorn the Sovereign or the Government, the laws or constitutions of the domain, and for the most part all undertakings to advance public issue.

In case of S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram government considered freedom to expression as important under censorship. As just producing works providing criticism against works of government cannot be considered sedition. 

Present Situation:

The famous case of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi shows how for drawing a carton against the government he was booked under sec 124A.In Sanskar Marahe v Aseem Trivedi and others Court said that every citizen have the right to express. The cartoons drawn are the visual representations which mostly consist of satire or a wit. But these cartoons consisted of anger against corruption. This does not take the power of expressing anger as this is just a case of strong criticism against government. Therefore not a sedition. Sometimes a satire dissenting government also is considered as sedition. “Satire plays an important role in journalism, allowing reporters to question the status quo with humor to underline a point and make it more accessible”.

A speech was delivered by a doctor in Aligarh Muslim University criticizing NRC and CAA  where he was booked for inciting violence and public disorder through his speech under 124A.The Court afterwards removed all such allegations as the speech never incited violence. But his speech was wrongly attributed with different expressions such as talking about national integrity was declared as hatred speech. Currently many cases are running under this section against journalists . According to a speech by Justice Deepak Mishra in Ahemdabad he defines this law as being misused by government. The people who criticize the government are charged for inciting violence. There are various journalist who are booked under sec 124A .This also questions the validity of such law as this poses a burden on accused to provide proof of not guilty. This can also be misused by anyone in country against anyone.

Why Sedition is Problematic? 

•Suppresses the liberty 

As said by Gandhi this law violates the liberty of individual. This is a colonial law enacted in the IPC as a tool to force the dissenting opinions to shut. Sedition in common language means a stirring up of rebellion against the government. Many leaders such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak were also charged with this law by Britishers.

•Law is Vague

The term used in this section ‘disaffection’ is vague. It is not actually defined anywhere. It is explained as disloyalty but under which circumstances? This law consists of a gap which leads to no exact explanation or interpretation of disloyalty towards government. 

•Not needed

This provision works as an extra provision with same goal as various other provisions have. Section 121A, UAPA etc. penalizes people for inciting violence against government and already. Therefore it is unnecessary to keep such provision as reasonable restrictions under article 19(2) already impose restrictions.


Creativity and artists are conferred by freedom to freely express under Constitution. Their fundamental right is protected .A strong criticism through creativity should not be equated with sedition. Criticism is a part of strong democracy and a necessary element for growth. Government should not misuse this law .At last citizen should understand their duty towards the state and both citizens and state work towards it.