17

In India we are not allowed to incite people to rebel against the government. Why are we not allowed to do so?

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    I suspect almost all independent states have laws against sedition. In the US, for example, I believe it is punishable by 20 years in prison - 18 U.S.C.A. § 2384 (2000). "In 1981, Oscar López Rivera, a Puerto Rican Nationalist and Vietnam war veteran, was convicted and sentenced to 70 years in prison for seditious conspiracy and various other offenses." – RedGrittyBrick Mar 7 at 14:50
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    Probably for the same reason you can't shout "Fire!!!" in a crowded theatre. – Valorum Mar 7 at 15:11
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    @Valorum Now I'm going to have to sick Popehat on you: popehat.com/2012/09/19/… – jeffronicus Mar 7 at 16:58
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    There's a big difference between espousing the flaws of the government and encouraging people to rise up against oppression, and in planning and plotting violent activities aimed at taking down government organizations. One of these is speech, which is protected, and the other is a planned assault, which is not protected. – Zibbobz Mar 7 at 20:21
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    @Valorum It's perfectly valid to shout Fire!!! if there actually is a fire. – pipe Mar 8 at 7:55
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Sedition, the technical legal term for what you're talking about, is prohibited by section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). This dates all the way back to the colonial era, and was originally used to suppress people pushing for India's independence from Britain.

The Supreme Court of India ruled in 1962 that section 124A was constitutional, but that speech or actions only constitute sedition if it incites or tends to incite violence or disorder. There is apparently some ongoing issues with this, with allegations of various substance that people are being charged with sedition despite their speech and/or actions not meeting this standard. But that's not terribly relevant to your question, though it might explain why it is of importance to you.

Answering your question beyond that is difficult, however. Free speech is enshrined in India's constitution, and indeed in several international treaties and conventions that India is a part of. But the jurisprudence on the matter seems inconsistent, with courts of all levels (including the Supreme Court) tending to produce conflicting precedents. The simplest explanation may be historical momentum: this part of the IPC has been around for a long time, and it can be difficult to repeal or alter (or, at times, even find) laws that are so old. This gets exacerbated by the idea that, in principle, Supreme Court decisions have already made alterations to the law, and legislatures across the globe tend to be slow to make such formal alterations. This is apparent in the United States, too, where many laws, state constitutions, etc. formally contain provisions that have been held unconstitutional. These have no legal force, and nobody tries to enforce them, so formally altering them is basically just political theater to most people (though technically, if the US constitution was suitably amended they could be rendered valid once again), and so time better spent elsewhere.

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    Funny; old laws (not only in India) should by default be easier to repeal (since they are more likely to be obsolete). – Peter A. Schneider Mar 7 at 10:25
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    @PeterA.Schneider I think that's how most people originally respond to the idea. But practical legislative and political realities tend to let them fall through the cracks: there's usually not a pressing need to do so, it's just decluttering (which in some instances is even bad, as exactly where things appear in the law changes how they are interpreted, and decluttering these without accounting for that can lead to significant and likely unintended consequences). So they do other things which the constituents find more pressing and important. – zibadawa timmy Mar 7 at 10:30
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    So law is like my software ... better don't change anything because it could have bad, unintended consequences ... bad ;-). – Peter A. Schneider Mar 7 at 11:11
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    Commenters here would enjoy learning about the Law Commission of India, which has existed since the middle 19th century, and which is currently in its 21st incarnation since 1955. – JdeBP Mar 7 at 12:14
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    I disagree that purging the code of unconstitutional law is "just political theater". Having unenforceable laws on the books confuses people about what the law really is. If a law has been ruled invalid, the legislature should amend it out of the statute books. – Monty Harder Mar 7 at 20:11
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I'm not familiar with India, but in general, guaranteed freedoms are never absolute. This would be a recipe for anarchy. The enforcing authority (the government) has to limit every freedom at least a little, or else that freedom could then be used to infringe upon other freedoms.

In the US, freedom of speech is pretty sacred and generally interpreted by the courts very expansively -- that's why it's so hard in the US to sue someone for libel or prosecute someone for treason. But even in the US there are serious limitations. As a basic example, it is illegal to use speech to directly incite a crime.

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    The difficulty of prosecuting someone for treason is not really to do with freedom of speech and everything to do with the fact that the U.S. constitution limits constructive treason with what is known as the Treason Clause. – JdeBP Mar 7 at 11:48
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    Exactly, freedoms are never absolute! In particular, your freedom ends when you use it to harm other people. – DrSheldon Mar 7 at 13:52
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    @JdeBP That's hardly unique to the US. The UK has many fewer protections for, e.g., freedom of speech, but there hasn't been a treason trial in the UK since 1945. – David Richerby Mar 7 at 13:53
9

Governments Crave Self-Preservation

The degree may vary, but all sufficiently large organisations eventually start gaining traits that promote its preservation. Some see it as a government's duty to ensure it doesn't get toppled easily, others will point out that governments without such measures are likely to, in the long run, be toppled more often, leading to an evolutionary selection of sorts for governments with such measures.

Restrictions on speech against inciting a toppling of a government are one example of such measure. (Others include monopoly on military force, on legislation and enforcement of law etc.)

  • Or you could see the other way around starting with the hypothesis that censorship is the natural/primitive state. It would mean that people/nations need to learn to overcome this, on their path toward civilization. – JinSnow Mar 7 at 11:23
  • I'm not sure I really buy this, especially as your headline makes it sound like power lust. All these governments who "crave self-preservation" but keep on running elections and getting voted out... – David Richerby Mar 7 at 13:58
  • @DavidRicherby Governments getting voted out is pretty rare. In most cases the election changes the MPs, ministers and presidents, but makes them serve in the same government. In fact I have the impression (but not backed by statistics) that governments more often cease to exist through a revolution, constitutional etc. than through a referendum. – vicky_molokh Mar 7 at 14:08
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    @vicky_molokh: In part this depends how you define "government". In the UK, the word government is mostly used to mean the current executive branch - In UK terms the prime-minister and cabinet. This "government" is mostly thrown out after five or ten years. In other parts of the world the term "government" may apply to the whole system of constitution and all legislative and administrative branches - which are only thrown out wholesale in a revolution. In the UK, "government" getting voted out is commonplace. – RedGrittyBrick Mar 7 at 14:31
  • OK, so you mean systems of government rather than actual governments. It kinda looks like I'm nitpicking over two letters, but I think you mean "Government craves" rather than "Governments crave". – David Richerby Mar 7 at 15:04
7

In a democracy, you are allowed to advocate a complete overthrow of the existing government, via voting. While it is commonplace today, the peaceful transfer of power from one government to the next is just that - an existing government stepping down and allowing itself to be overthrown.

What you can't do is advocate violence, whether to overthrow a government or any other reason, because advocating a crime is generally not considered protected speech.

6

Since I have found that most of the answers are not India specific, I am adding to them. In India we derive freedom of speech and expression from Article 19 (1) (a). This freedom is (like all the other 5) subjected to reasonable restrictions, 19 (2) specifically on freedom of speech. Clause (2) of the article puts 8 restriction on freedom of speech namely,

  1. Sovereignty and integrity of state
  2. Security of state
  3. Friendly relations with foreign states
  4. Public order
  5. Decency or morality
  6. Contempt of court
  7. Defamation
  8. Incitement of offence

If your speech is not hurting any of these then you're good and can oppose the government but inciting to rebel threatens point 1 IF government is legally established (as it has people's mandate) and also point 8 to some extent (IPC Section 124A, but it's removal is debated). As sovereignty and democracy are basic elements of our constitution (Kesavanand Bharati case) it can't be amended and hence as long as democracy and rule of law is there you can't incite to rebel against a just and democratically elected government.

2

Because there is a law prohibiting it!

'Free Speech' is an ideal. Many constitutions, written or unwritten, set great store by it.

But no country I know of allows unlimited free speech. They all draw the line when it is misrepresentation, harmful, obscene, incitement to criminal action etc.

I know we're discussing India. But it is interesting to consider whether America's beloved Second Amendment, often interpreted as enabling citizens to overthrow a tyrannical government, implies freedom to discuss and advocate such an action.

  • Re: Second Amendment question yes, but it's more a free speech matter than a second amendment matter. U.S. Jurisprudence for Free Speech is that the intent of the speaker determines whether speech is protected or unprotected (i.e. could be prosecuted by government in someway), not the interpretation of the listener. Thus, there are circumstances where it is acceptable to discuss for the violent overthrow of the U.S. government (i.e. a comedian, making a joke about killing the sitting President, is not guilty of threatening to kill the president, because his intent was to make fun of the idea – hszmv Mar 7 at 14:29
  • Whereas the modern trend is to assess culpability (even criminal culpability) by the degree of offence taken by the object of abuse. – Laurence Payne Mar 7 at 14:32
  • In the court of public opinion, yes. In the United States judicial system, attacking someone for something they said that is offensive (Fighting Words) is pretty hard to justify... Fighting Word Doctrine is better defined by what it is not, than what it is (no case on a Fighting Words Doctrine offense has been upheld by the Supreme Court... beyond the one that named the offense in the first place). – hszmv Mar 7 at 14:54
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    Re "consider whether [...] overthrow a tyrannical government [...] implies freedom to discuss and advocate such an action." Yes actually, in the US I'm pretty sure that it is entirely legal for those who believe the US government is tyrannical to discuss whether it should be overthrown and how that should be done. People do it all the time, very publically for some of them. Some have even publically advocated and expressly called for that to happen now. Anecdotally from experience reading news, it generally doesn't become legal matter until it starts or until violence is actively planned. – Aaron Mar 7 at 17:17
  • For an example, about 5-10 years ago there were 2nd amendment activists which were actively coordinating an effort to march thousands of armed citizens through the nation's capital in a peaceful protest, and one of the leaders was (if I recall correctly; it's hazy) also active in saying that citizens should overthrow the current government though he never attempted doing so. The response by the government was merely to say "Anyone who is carrying a firearm crossing the border into the capital will be arrested." – Aaron Mar 7 at 17:21

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