The Supreme Court recently directed the police and authorities to immediately and suo motu register cases against hate speech makers without waiting for a complaint to be filed.

 

Details

  • There is no specific legal definition of ‘hate speech’.
  • In general, hate speech is considered a limitation on free speech that seeks to prevent or bar speech that exposes a person or a group or section of society to hate, violence, ridicule or indignity.
  • Provisions in law criminalise speeches, writings, actions, signs and representations that foment violence and spread disharmony between communities and groups and these are understood to refer to ‘hate speech’.
  • Major Guidelines issued by the Supreme Court include —
      • The Supreme Court directed the Governments of NCT of Delhi, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh to file a report before the court regarding the actions taken on the hate speech crimes which happened within their jurisdiction.
      • The court directed that these governments should take suo motu action against hate speech crime, without waiting for any complaint.
      • The action should be taken regardless of the religion of the speaker.
      • The court also warned that any hesitation to act as per the directions would be viewed as contempt of the court.

 

Article 19 and Hate Speech

  • Article 19(2) of the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression to all citizens of India.
  • This article is subjected to certain restrictions, namely, sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.
  • Provisions in clauses (2) to (6) of Article 19 authorises the State to restrict the exercise of the freedom guaranteed under the article.

 

Legal Provisions

  • Sections 153A and 505 of the Indian Penal Code are generally taken to be the main penal provisions that deal with inflammatory speeches and expressions that seek to punish ‘hate speech’.
  • Under Section 153A, ‘promotion of enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony’, is an offence punishable with three years’ imprisonment.
  • Section 505 of Indian Penal Code (IPC)makes it an offence to making “statements conducing to public mischief”.
  • Section 8 of Representation of the People Act, 1951 disqualifies a person from contesting election if he is convicted for indulging in acts amounting to illegitimate use of freedom of speech and expression.

 

Important Judgements

  • In Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan v. Union of India, the Supreme Court held that the implementation of existing laws would solve the problem of hate speech to a great extent.
  • In Jafar Imam Naqvi v. Election Commission of India, the petitioners filed a writ petition challenging the vitriolic speeches made by the candidates in the election and prayed for issue of writ of mandamus to the Election Commission for taking appropriate steps against such speeches.
      • However, the Court dismissed the petition on the ground that the petition under Article 32 of the Constitution regarding speeches delivered during election campaign does not qualify as public interest litigation and that the Court cannot legislate on matters where the legislative intent is visible.

 

Suggestions by various committees

  • The Law Commission has proposed that separate offences be added to the IPC to criminalize hate speech quite specifically instead of being subsumed in the existing sections concerning inflammatory acts and speeches.
  • Similar proposals to add sections to the IPC to punish acts and statements that promote racial discrimination or amount to hate speech have been made by the M.P. Bezbaruah Committee and the T.K. Viswanathan Committee.
  • At present, the Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws, which is considering more comprehensive changes to criminal law, is examining the issue of having specific provisions to tackle hate speech.