The Law Commission on Thursday observed that a person cannot be charged with sedition for merely criticising the country or a particular aspect of it. The commission said the charge can only be invoked in cases where the intention is to overthrow public order or the government with violence or illegal methods.

In a consultation paper on Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code that deals with sedition, the commission asked whether sedition can be redefined in a country like India, where right to free speech and expression has been ensured as a fundamental right by the Constitution. Dissent and criticism are essential to democracy, the Law Commission observed, and the sedition law should not be misused as a tool to curb free speech.

“Berating the country or a particular aspect of it, cannot and should not be treated as sedition,” the commission said in its consultation paper. “If the country is not open to positive criticism, there lies little difference between the pre- and post-independence eras. Right to criticise one’s own history and the right to offend are rights protected under free speech.”

The commission added: “In a democracy, singing from the same songbook is not a benchmark of patriotism. People should be at liberty to show their affection towards their country in their own way.”

The commission noted that the United Kingdom, which introduced the section in the Indian Penal Colde, had itself abolished the sedition law 10 years ago as it “did not want to be quoted as an example of using such draconian laws”. The commission said it hoped for a healthy debate among lawmakers, government and non-government agencies, academia, and general public on the matter to bring about a public-friendly amendment.