United Nations defined the term Hate Speech as “any kind ofommunication in speech, writing or behaviour, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language about a person or a group based on who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factors”
In layman’s terms, “hate speech” refers to offensive statements that may endanger societal harmony and targets a group or a person based on intrinsic traits (such as race, religion, or gender).
According to the Law Commission of India 267th Report, Hate Speech is defined as an incitement to hatred that is primarily aimed toward a group of individuals identified by their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or other characteristics.
The Supreme Court of India outlined the definition of hate speech in the case of Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan v. Union of India as “an effort to marginalize individuals based on their membership in a group which seeks to delegitimize group members in the eyes of the majority, reducing their social standing and acceptance within society.”
HATE SPEECH – INDIAN PERSPECTIVE
The origin of Hate Speech is not traceable in India but if we want to identify the main reason behind this it is noticeable that it is because of the improper and malicious usage of social media and the internet. The unchecked mechanism of social media handles is working as fuel to the fire. If we go by constitutional provisions we can see we have Article 19 (1) (a) which says that “all citizens shall have the right to speech and expression” but with reasonable restrictions on it defined under Article 19(2). Even though the Indian Constitution does not specify hate speech, it is covered under reasonable restrictions.
SUPREME COURT VIEW ON HATE SPEECH:
In Ramji Lal Modi v. The State of UP, Supreme Court held that State has the jurisdiction to control any activity that threatens the peaceful functioning of society and the public order. The court upheld the validity of Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code. The decision was used up until very recently in 2016 to deny a petition that questioned the constitutionality of the aforementioned section. In Baragur Ramachandrappa v State of Karnataka, a 2007 decision of the Supreme Court, “a pragmatic approach” was invoked in interpreting Section 295A. The state government had issued a notification banning Dharmakaarana, a Kannada novel written by award-winning author P V Narayana, on the ground that it was hate speech, invoking a gamut of provisions including Section 295A. The pragmatic approach was to restore public order by “forfeiture” of a book over the individual interest of free speech. It was also said in the case of Baba Khalil Ahmed v. State of Uttar Pradesh, that the “malicious purpose” of the accused can be ascertained not only from the speech in question but also from outside sources.
In the instant case of Haridwar Hate Speech, Supreme Court said that where we have reached in the name of religion and what we have reduced religion to is tragic. Supreme Court reiterated that civil courts should consider cases involving hate speech and award punitive damages along with injunctions and declarations against the offenders. It stated that Governments must act immediately to stop any hate speech crimes, without waiting for a complaint. Cases should be suo motu registered and the offenders should be proceeded against in accordance with the law. No matter what religion the speaker practices, action should be taken. The Court cautioned that any refusal to follow the rules would be considered contempt of court. During the hearing, the court expressed its concern at the statements and questioned the impact that religion was having on the citizenry. The Bench remarked that the entire atmosphere is getting sullied by these hate speeches and that it needs to be stopped.
IS HATE SPEECH A CRIMINAL OFFENCE?
AS PER THE INDIAN PENAL CODE:
Section 153 A of the Indian Penal Code criminalizes the use of statements and speeches that have the potential to disturb public order and tranquillity by instilling fear in the minds of the general public based on caste, religion, and place of birth. Supreme Court has consistently attempted to maintain the “intent” of the act at the forefront of its decisions in instances involving Section 153A. Although the phrase “intention” was removed from the Act in 1961, the judiciary nevertheless interprets the cases based on the circumstances to determine whether or not the intention is relevant. Section 153B of the IPC deals with the issues related to imputations with prejudice to threaten national security.
For the applicability of Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code, there should be the arousal of hatred or violent incitement against certain groups or communities. Contrary to the situation in the United States, where the First Amendment largely protects hate speech, here is no fundamental right to hate speech in India unless there is some type of incitement or the ability to inspire or create impending unlawful conduct.
It can be difficult to keep hate speech under control in a diverse nation like India. The problem cannot simply be addressed by passing laws. The main issue is to identify the fundamental reason why hate speech arises and to eradicate that reason, not only through the enactment of harsh laws but also through the promotion of empathetic and pluralistic policies. To reduce the likelihood of hate speech communication gaps in society must be effectively closed. To keep hate speech under strict control, it is necessary to find a balance between free speech and Hate Speech. To address the root cause of hate speech, effective debate and high-quality education are prerequisites in a functioning democracy. It not only aims to stop hatred but also raises awareness about the negative repercussions of hate speech.
At last we can say that Indian law empowers the state fully to deal with such speech and bring the offenders to book. It is not any inadequacy in the law but lack of the political will and administrative resolve which explains why the law has remained a dead letter.
Author(s) Name: Harshpreet Kaur(Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab)