What is the difference between sedition and defamation?

Sedition1 is a crime against the State, meaning a crime where violence or public disorder is caused amongst the people as they have been incited against the government. A crime of defamation2 is against a person or a group of persons, where words or visual representations affect their reputation.

  1. Section 124A, Indian Penal Code, 1860.[]
  2. Section 499, Indian Penal Code, 1860.[]

I have spoken about the lack of funds in the Public Distribution System and have criticized the government for it. Will there be sedition charges against me?

If your speeches are honest concerns and have not further posed any threat to causing any public disorder or violence against the government, there will not be any sedition charges against you. You would be liable for an act of sedition if you have attempted or encouraged people to resort to violence. Under the law it is known as exciting disaffection.

Meaning of Sedition

When anyone tries to bring hatred or contempt or excites disaffection towards the government, they have committed an act of sedition. An act of sedition has to be done through one of the following ways:

  • Words (spoken or written).
  • Visual representation such as signs, videos, pictures or cartoons.

The result of an act of sedition should be violence or public disorder or an attempt to cause violence/public disorder.1

The Supreme Court has held in various judgments that the law of sedition is only applicable where:

  • A person causes violence, or
  • A person encourages people to create violence.2

For example, Shri Rampal, the leader of a village, gives a speech where he asks the people to rebel against the Government so that they can secede from India. This leads to a lot of hatred against the Government along with public disorder and riots. Shri Rampal would be held liable for an act of sedition.

  1. Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar, A.I.R. 1962 S.C. 955.[]
  2. Section 124A, Indian Penal Code, 1860.[]

Sedition and Dissatisfaction towards the Government

An act is seditious if your act results in people feeling hatred or contempt towards the Government. A person commits sedition if they use either spoken or written words or gestures, aimed at encouraging people to1:

  1. Disobey the authority of the Government, or
  2. Resist the authority of the Government.

These actions should lead people to resort to violence and create public disorder. An attempt to make people disobey or resist the Government through acts of public disorder or violence may also be an act of sedition.2

  1. Section 124A, Indian Penal Code, 1860.[]
  2. Nazir Khan v. State of Delhi, 2003 (8) S.C.C. 461.[]

Acts which are not sedition

The following acts do not amount to sedition as they are protected by your right to freedom of speech and expression under the Constitution of India:

  • Any criticism of government policies and their actions.
  • Any criticism done in good faith against the Government.
  • Any criticism done to improve the functioning of the Government.

In other words, commenting in strong terms upon the measures or acts of Government or its agencies is not the same as disloyalty towards the Government. As long as the words used by a person do not lead to people feeling enmity and disloyalty towards the Government and public disorder or use of violence, it is not an act of sedition.1

Example I:

  • If Amit draws a cartoon for a newspaper highlighting and ridiculing the corruption in the Government, it would not amount to sedition.2
  • If a filmmaker makes a documentary on the violence of Jammu and Kashmir and critiques the Government actions in it, they would not be liable for sedition.

Example II:

  • If Bobby sticks posters in the public library to boycott the general elections to the Legislative assembly and writes “No vote for the masters who are exploiting people”, this does not amount to sedition.
  • If Rahul criticizes the government on his Facebook wall for not maintaining the roads in his area, and says bad things about the government, it would not amount to sedition.3
  • If Tanya expresses her anger against any administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite any hatred or violence, then it would not amount to sedition.

Example III:

  • If Raj gives a fiery speech at a stage rally about the ongoing injustice to a certain community, then his speeches won’t amount to sedition if they do not incite any violence or cause public disorder.4
  • If Ramu holds a slogan saying “I hate the Government, the Government is corrupt”, it is not an act of sedition. If the slogan had resulted in people hating the Government along with violence, then it would be an act of sedition.
  1. Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar, A.I.R. 1962 S.C. 955.[]
  2. Sanskar Marathe v. State of Maharashtra & Ors., 2015 (2) R.C.R. (Cr) 351.[]
  3. Balwant Singh v. State of Punjab, (1995) 3 S.C.C. 214.[]
  4. Arup Bhuyan v. The State of Assam, (2011) 3 S.C.C. 377.[]

Seditious Text

As a citizen, you have a right to write (newspaper, periodicals etc.) whatever you like about the Government, or its measures, by way of criticism or comment, so long as you do not incite people to violence against the Government or don’t do with an intent of creating public disorder. Authorship, distribution and circulation are parts of an act of sedition.1 However, just doing one of these acts may not amount to sedition.2 It is decided by the Court on a case-by-case basis. If these actions result in public disorder or violence among the people, then those responsible for it would be held liable.

Example: If Mr X, was found in possession of or distributing pamphlets, booklets and letters which discussed a Naxalite organization using violence and guerilla force to fight with the Government, then he is guilty of an act of sedition. These documents themselves show that they are the documents prepared to excite disaffection towards the Government.

  1. Raghubir Singh v. State of Bihar, A.I.R. 1986 S.C. 508.[]
  2. Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras, A.I.R. 1950 S.C. 124.[]