The arrest of JNU Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar in a case of sedition and criminal conspiracy has highlighted a grey area lying between the statutory provisions and their enforcement.
Civil rights activists and legal experts have long asserted that the State authorities have been misusing the sedition law to target citizens who simply express their legitimate views. Moreover, the trial courts have mostly disregarded or ignored the Supreme Court’s interpretation of sedition law. The offence is punishable with imprisonment for life. After Independence, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court upheld the validity of Section 124-A in the celebrated case of Kedar Nath Singh vs. State of Bihar in 1962, but laid down that a person can be charged with sedition only if there is incitement to violence in his speech or writing or an intention or tendency to create disorder or disturbance of law and order.
In the Maneka Gandhi case of 1978, the Supreme Court held that criticising and drawing general opinion against the government’s policies and decisions within a reasonable limit that does not incite people to rebel is consistent with the freedom of speech.