Balwant Singh and Anr. v. State of Punjab, (1995) 1 SCR 411

Introduction

In 1995, in Balwant Singh v. State of Punjab, the Supreme Court overturned a sedition conviction for sloganeers who shouted incendiary slogans shortly after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, on the grounds that the slogans raised did not lead to violence.

The sedition law was introduced under Section 124-A IPC by the British lawmakers fearing the development of an anti-colonial agenda by the Press. The Common Law on the subject was too wide and severe in the initial stages. The changes in the English too was gradual, from a strict interpretation of the law to giving leeway for judicial discretion. Therefore, it is important to note here that the very nation which formulated the law has itself pronounced it to be imperial, moreover there has not been any use of it since 1909.[ The changes in body politics and constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and expression has been accorded the primary reasons behind the controversial importance of laws regarding sedition. The law of sedition also found place in Press (Emergency Powers) Act, 1931 and Defence of India Rules, all of which stands repealed now.

Facts

On the 31st of October, 1984, the appellants, Balwant Singh and Bhupinder Singh were arrested at 5:45pm near Neelam Cinemas, Chandigarh, under Sections 124-A[1] and 153-A of the Indian Penal Code[2] and were sentenced to one year rigorous imprisonment and a fine of 500 rupees. On the day of the assassination of Indira Gandhi, i.e, 31st October 1984, the appellants were alleged to have chanted the following slogans – “1. Khalistan Zindabad, 2. Raj KaregaKhalsa, and Hinduan Nun Punjab Chon KadhKeChhadange, Hun MaukaAya Hai Raj Kayam Karan Da.” and hence the above affirmative action was taken against them. Feeling aggrieved by the decision, the appellants sought an appeal under Section 14 of the Terrorist Affected Areas (Special Courts) Act, 1984.[3]

Issue

Whether the appellants can be held liable under Sections 124-A[4] and 153-A of the Indian Penal Code.[5]

Rule

Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code reads as the following –

“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, 13*** the Government established by law in 14[India], 15*** shall be punished with 16[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.”[6]

Section 153-A of the Indian Penal Code reads as the following –

“ Whoever— (a) by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or illwill between different religious, racials, language or regional groups or castes or communities, or 1. Subs. by Act 35 of 1969, s. 2, for section 153A. 41 (b) commits any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, and which disturbs or is likely to disturb the public tranquillity, 1 [or] 1 [(c) organizes any exercise, movement, drill or other similar activity intending that the participants in such activity shall use or be trained to use criminal force or violence or knowing it to be likely that the participants in such activity will use or be trained to use criminal force or violence, or participates in such activity intending to use or be trained to use criminal force or violence or knowing it to be likely that the participants in such activity will use or be trained to use criminal force or violence, against any religious, racial, language or regional group or caste or community and such activity for any reason whatsoever causes or is likely to cause fear or alarm or a feeling of insecurity amongst members of such religious, racial, language or regional group or caste or community,] shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.”[7]

Section 14 of the Terrorist Affected Areas (Special Courts) Act, 1984 states the following –

“(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in the Code, an appeal shall lie as a matter of right from any judgment, sentence or order, not being interlocutory order, of a Special Court to the Supreme Court both on facts and on law. (2) Except as aforesaid, no appeal or revision shall lie to any court from any judgment, sentence or order of a Special Court. (3) Every appeal under this section shall be preferred within a period of thirty days from the date of the judgment, sentence or order appealed from: Provided that the Supreme Court may entertain an appeal after the expiry of the said period of thirty days if it is satisfied that the appellant had sufficient cause for not preferring the appeal within the period of thirty days.”[8]

Analysis

As per the words of PW3, the appellants raised the slogan “Khalistan Zindabad” five to six times, the slogan “Raj KaregaKhalsa” two to four times and the third slogan only once or twice. Additionally, it was stated that the appellants did not utter the slogans after the arrest took place and did so only prior to the same. However, the appellants denied these claims under Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure[9] by providing witnesses who stated that they were in their presence and were then arrested by two inspectors presumably due to the fact that a kirpan was worn and their beards were left untied. Peculiarly, PW2 and PW3 stated that no kirpan was possessed the appellants but the police claimed that a kirpan was possessed and was kept in safe custody at the police station. Upon being arrested, ASI Labh Singh was present at the police station and when enquired about the reason for arrest, he stated that only the senior police officer who had brought them could provide them with an answer and another police officer provided them with the same response. The learned counsel for the appellants used the above to claim that the case was a made up affair and was this was proved due to the inconsistencies within the testimonies. The Court held the reasoning that two lonesome appellants shouting a few slogans could not have attracted the provisions of Section 124A[10] or Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code.[11] The Court also stated that they had not shouted “Hindustan Murdabad” which was pressed as an allegation by the Trial Court even though neither party argued that the appellants had committed the offence of shouting the same.

Conclusion

The appeal was allowed and the previous conviction/sentence was set aside.

References

https://indiankanoon.org/doc/123425906/

http://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/A1860-45.pdf

http://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/A1984-61.pdf

http://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/A1974-02.pdf


[1]§ 124A, Pen Code.,No. 45 of 1860, India Code (1993), vol. 13.

[2]§ 153A, Pen Code.,No. 45 of 1860, India Code (1993), vol. 13.

[3]§ 14, Terrorist Affected Areas (Special Courts) Act,No. 61 of 1984, India Code (1993), vol. 13.

[4]Supra note 1.

[5]Supra note 2.

[6]Supra note 1.

[7]Supra note 2.

[8]Supra note 3.

[9]§ 313, Code Crim. Proc.., No. 2 of 1974, India Code (1993), vol. 13.

[10]Supra note 1.

[11]Supra note 2.

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