Offences against the State

offences committed against the state

Since time immemorial, there have been offences committed against the state and in correspondence to this, there have been laws that have been enacted to safeguard and preserve the State.  These can be in the nature of waging war, sedition and many more. The state has outlined what composes as an offence which is against the sovereignty and integrity of the state.  Chapter VI of the Indian Penal Code from sections 121-130 deals with offences against the State. States have enacted laws to protect themselves and safeguard their interests on the presumption that every citizen owes an allegiance to the State and has to abide by its sovereignty.

The offences mentioned in Chapter VI can be broadly classified in four categories owing to their nature and gravity.

  • Waging War ( against the Government of India and any power)
  • Assault on high officials
  • Escape of a state prisoner
  • Sedition

Waging War

It is the primary duty of every State to protect the citizens from attack from the outside, in cases of war especially, preservation of the state becomes the highest priority. In the monarchial form of government, the right of preservation of the State was exalted to a sacred right, and so violence against the state was considered a lese majestic-les majestic human, an offence against the power, crown, dignity and majesty of the invisible God while throne is in heaven. The law of treason was guarded, preserved and provision for the most severe punishment of capital sentence was prescribed for such acts. The Indian Penal Code has incorporated the common law concept of preservation of State and has provided for severe punishments for such offences with death, life imprisonment and fine.

The main ingredients of Section 121 are the accused must wage war or attempt to wage such war or abet the waging of war against the Government of India. A plain study of this section displays for us that it deals with three aspects of waging war. This section applies to everyone whether a citizen or a foreigner, a foreigner is liable on the principle of de jure gentium which means allegiance and protection is reciprocally due from subject and sovereign.

A feature that stands out in this section is that it places at par all the three stages of waging war. For the purpose of punishment, the distinction has been made between the three. However, the legislature treats all in the same manner. The offence of abetment under this section is unique and a complete offence. It is seen in the case of Mir Hasan Khan v. State of Bihar, to be convicted under this section it must be proved that the person has planned to obtain possession of an armoury and has used the rifles and ammunitions against the State troops, but also that the seizure of the armoury was part and parcel of a planned action.

It is important to note that there is a difference between rioting and waging war, rioting is an offence against public tranquillity and defined in Chapter VII under section 146 of the IPC. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two but the code lays down the differences. Rioting is usually to accomplish some private purpose, by the people engaged in it and not to resist or call into question the government’s authority, no matter how large the mob might be.

Section 121A was inserted in the code by the Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Act, 1870. This broadened the scope to punish even a conspiracy to wage war against the State. This section finds its foundation in the English law of the Treason Felony Act, 1848. Section 122 makes the very act of collecting arms in preparation to wage war against the Government of India punishable depending on the gravity and seriousness of the nature of the offence.

Assault on a Higher Official

Section 124 deals with an assault on the President, Governor and other members of the government. This is an extension of the second clause of section 121A which makes conspiracy to show criminal force to the Government of India or any State Government punishable and it specifically deals with the executive powers such as the President and the Governor. The principle that this section lies on is the one where the heads of the State should be free from fear of personal harm and injury while discharging their legal duties. This protection is not to be considered absolute and extends only as long as they discharge their official functions.

Escape of a State Prisoner

Section 128 to 130 deals with State prisoners; State prisoners are those who have been arrested to maintain peace and tranquillity with other friendly nations and for the security of the Indian State. Sections 128 & 129 make it an offence for a public servant to voluntarily allow a prisoner of State or war to escape. It is punishable with life imprisonment up to 10 years and fine. If the prisoner escapes due to the negligence of the public servant, this is punishable with simple imprisonment for a term up to three years and fine. Section 130 applies to all persons who aid and assist a state prisoner to escape, not just a public servant.


The law of sedition was introduced in India through section 124A. It was originally section 113 of Lord Macaulay’s draft of the Indian Penal Code of 1837. It was proposed to be included, but for unaccountable reasons it was omitted from the Penal Code when the IPC was enacted in 1860. However, this was changed by the Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Act, 1870. As observed by Sinha CJ, law regarding sedition is based on the principle that ‘every State, whether its form of Government, has to be armed with the power to publish those who by their conduct, jeopardize the safety and stability of the State, or disseminate such feelings of disloyalty as tend to lead to the disruption of the state or public disorder’

Sedition to be simply put means libel or defamation of the established authority of law; the Government. Hence, it is called sedition libel in England. Sedition in the ordinary sense means a stirring up of rebellion against the Government. Sedition is thus a crime against society frequently leading to treason. The essential ingredients of Section 124A are, there is a bringing or attempting to bring into hatred or exciting or attempting to excite disaffection against the Government of India, such act or attempt may be done by words, either spoken or written or by signs or by visible representation & this act must be intentional.

The celebrated case of Q.E. v. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Justice Strachey laid down in his judgmentstating that ‘anyone who excites or attempts to excite feeling of disaffection great or small, will be held guilty under this section’. Yet, in the case of Tara Singh v. State of Punjab section 124A was struck down as unconstitutional being contrary to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a). It thus often held that Section 124A is ultra-vires of the constitution as it seeks to punish merely bad feelings against the Government. There have been various suggestions to amend section124A to suit the basic structure of the constitution which guarantees freedom of speech. A constitutional bench of the Supreme Court, through its pronouncement in Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar has put to rest this ambivalence and explains that there are reasonable restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Public tranquillity?

Public tranquillity means Tranquility is the quality or state of being in order. These offences are group offences which are generally committed by the large number of persons resulting in disturbance of public tranquillity. The public tranquillity is the group of persons doing an activity that causes the disturbance of the peace in the society.

What is the difference between sedition and treason?

A person may commit sedition by holding a meeting to discuss a rebellion or revolution in his home. Treason, on the other hand, involves taking specific actions that betray one’s country, such as by waging war, providing aid to an enemy, or committing espionage.

What is the punishment for treason in India?

Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 provides that whoever commits murder shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.

“The views of the authors are personal


The Indian Penal Code, K.D. Gaur, fourth Edition, Universal Law Publishing Co. p,195-210Cecil Turner.J. (2013), Kenny’s Outlines of Criminal Law, Cambridge: Cambridge University PressTextbook of Criminal Law, Glanville Williams, fourth Edition, Sweet & Maxwell South Asian Edition Criminal Law, PSA Pillai’s, 11th Edition KI Vibhute, Lexis NexisMir Hasan Khan v. State of Bihar, AIR 1951 Pat 60 (63-64)Q.E. v. Bal GangadharTilak (1891) ILR 19 Cal 35 Tara Singh v. State of Punjab, AIR 1951 East Punjab 27 KedarNath v. State of Bihar, AIR 1962 SC 955

Srishti John
Srishti is a law student at CMR School of Legal Studies, Bangalore. In her time at law school, she has found herself lost in subjects like Jurisprudence and Criminology. She loves a good debate and people who challenge her to become better. She is a Political Science graduate from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. Her resolutions involve reading 30 books in 2020 and spreading a message of joy, kindness and love. She wants to pursue her LLM and aid the violated and vulnerable in their quest for equality & justice.