Hate Speech: Understanding & Combating it in India

20 Nov 2023  Read 7667 Views

Have you ever encountered words online or offline that made you uncomfortable? Whether it's online or offline, words can deeply impact us. That's why it's important to talk about hate speech, which is when words are used as weapons to hurt or belittle people because of who they are. Did you know more than one hateful incident happened daily in the first half of 2023? Can you imagine? 

A report by Hindutva Watch tells us that these incidents mostly popped up in states with upcoming elections, that is, 255 hate speech cases against Muslims in gatherings. And guess where? Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Gujarat lead this pack. 

Now, let's delve into this article to learn about legal provisions against hate speech in India, important case laws, guidelines combating hate speech and many more.

Legal Provisions against Hate Speech in India

Freedom of Speech under the Indian Constitution:

  • Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution guarantees every citizen the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • However, Article 19(2) places reasonable limitations on this right to maintain a balance between its lawful exercise and potential abuse.
  • Permissible restrictions include sovereignty, integrity, security, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, dignity, morality, contempt of court, defamation, or incitement of an offence.

Hate Speech Provision in Indian Penal Code:

  • Sections 153A and 153B of the IPC punish the acts that cause enmity and hatred between groups.
  • Section 295A of the IPC explicitly addresses offences related to religion, and the term "hate speech" is not expressly used in the section. "Hate speech" can encompass a broader range of expressions that target a person or group based on attributes such as religion, race, ethnicity, or other characteristics. It addresses the punishment of actions that intentionally and maliciously offend the religious sentiments of a particular group of people.
  • Sections 505(1) and 505(2) criminalize creating and disseminating content that could foster animosity or hatred between various groups.

Hate Speech under the Representation of People's Act (RPA), 1951:

  • Section 8 of the RPA, 1951 prohibits individuals convicted of misusing freedom of speech from participating in elections.
  • Sections 123(3A) and 125 of the RPA forbid the promotion of animosity or hatred based on race, religion, community, caste, or language about elections, categorizing it as a form of corrupt electoral practice.

Hate Speech under Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989:

This law prohibits hate speech directed at Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes in any public place.

Hate Speech under the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955:

The Act penalizes the incitement and encouragement of untouchability through spoken or written words, signs, visible representations, or other means.

Impact of Hate Speech in India

  • Hate speech contributes to laws that impact religious minorities, like the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens.
  • Instances such as the ban on Muslim traders in temple fairs and the absence of Muslim Lok Sabha MPs in the ruling party add to this discrimination.
  • Verbal attacks on vulnerable minorities injure dignity, induce fear, cause emotional distress, and affect psychological well-being. This verbal violence, even without direct physical harm, is discriminatory in itself.
  • People are portrayed primarily as religious subjects, overlooking their diverse roles as slum dwellers, workers, peasants, or labourers. 
  • Hate speech diverts attention from pressing societal issues, perpetuating endless debates on religious symbols, practices, and traditions.

Countries which don't recognize Hate Speech

  • United States: The US Constitution's First Amendment protects freedom of speech, including hate speech. In the US, hate speech is generally not a crime unless it directly incites violence or poses a credible threat.
  • Canada: While Canada has laws against hate speech, the legal definition and application differ from those in other countries. Specific forms of hate speech are prohibited under the Canadian Human Rights Act, but the criminal code provisions on hate speech have faced legal challenges.
  • United Kingdom: The UK has laws against hate speech, particularly concerning race, religion, and sexual orientation. However, the legal framework is nuanced, and the balance between free speech and preventing harm is a matter of ongoing debate.
  • Australia: Australia has laws addressing hate speech, but the legal approach varies among states and territories. The country seeks to balance protecting freedom of speech and preventing discrimination.

Essential Cases on Hate Speech

1. Jafar Imam Naqvi v. Election Commission of India (1948)

Background:

  • This case occurred during the 2014 parliamentary elections.
  • Petitioner sought the derecognition of political parties engaging in "illegal" activities, particularly hate speech stoking religious tensions.

Court's Approach:

  • The Supreme Court focused on reasons against entering the legislative field and issuing guidelines.
  • Ignored specific pleas about the derecognition of parties.
  • Emphasized that handling hate speeches is a matter for adjudication in an appropriate legal forum.

Judgment:

  • The court did not entertain the petition as a public interest litigation.
  • It missed the opportunity to establish limits on hate speech during electioneering.

2. Amish Devgan v. Union of India ('Amish Devgan') (2020)

Background:

It involved criminal charges against television journalist Amish Devgan for making derogatory remarks about a saint in Islám during a TV program.

Court's Approach:

  • Refused to quash criminal cases, affirming the adequacy of existing criminal law to address hate speech.
  • Conducted a comprehensive review of Indian and foreign decisions on hate speech.
  • Referred to the right to equality in Article 14 of the Constitution and the duty of citizens to promote harmony and fraternity.

Court's Interpretation:

  • Distinguished between protecting dignity through criminalizing hate speech and the broader concept protected by defamation law.
  • Defined dignity as a person's basic entitlement, social equal status, and bearer of human rights and constitutional entitlements.
  • Emphasized the importance of dignity for the nation's unity, integrity, pluralism, and diversity.

Judgment:

The court held that divisiveness and alienation affect not only the dignity of the target group but also the overall pluralism and diversity of the country.

Which Supreme Court cases set guidelines against hate speech misuse?

  • In Tahseen Poonawalla vs Union of India (2018)

The Supreme Court had issued comprehensive guidelines to the Union and State Governments regarding the prevention of mob violence and lynching.

  • In Kodungallur Film Society case (2018)

Directions were issued to control vandalism by protesting mobs. These guidelines included–

  • Fast-tracked trials,
  • Victim compensation,
  • Deterrent punishment,
  • Disciplinary action against lax law-enforcing officials.

Suggestions 

How do we address hate speech issues? Here's a list of suggestions that we have:

  1. Promote awareness about the damaging impact of hate speech on individuals and society. Emphasize the need for education to inform people about the consequences of such speech.
  2. Advocate for the enhancement of existing laws or the introduction of new legislation targeting hate speech. Supplement legal measures with initiatives like media literacy programs, open dialogue forums, counter-speech campaigns, self-regulation practices, and engagement from civil society.
  3. Suggesting establishing and enforcing proper codes of conduct, ensuring accountability for hate speech. Promoting media ethics to discourage the dissemination of harmful content.
  4. Implementing educational initiatives to enhance media literacy and critical thinking skills & facilitating open discussions within communities to foster understanding and bridge differences.
  5. Encouraging positive communication and empowering individuals to speak out against hate.

Analysis

Preventing the spread of hate speech requires a varied approach that involves various strategies. These strategies aim to challenge the narratives of hate speech, amplify alternative voices, and promote a culture of tolerance and respect. The comprehensive measures involve a combination of legal measures, educational initiatives, and societal engagement. The goal is to create a society where mutual respect and harmony thrive, by fostering an environment that discourages hate speech and encourages responsible communication.

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Conclusion

In light of the NCRB report of 2021, it is concerning that cases filed under hate-speech laws have surged by 500% over the past seven years. The definition of hate speech is ambiguous, and it has been selectively and narrowly interpreted, often serving the agenda of those in power. This revelation highlights the need for a reevaluation of hate-speech laws, ensuring a more precise and unbiased framework that truly safeguards the well-being of all. Addressing the roots of hate speech requires not only legal reforms but also a collective commitment to fostering a society that thrives on empathy, understanding, and unity.

What steps can individuals take in their daily lives to combat hate speech and foster a more inclusive and respectful society?

Comment below!

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About the Author: Kakoli Nath | 275 Post(s)

She is a Legal Content Manager at Finology Legal! With a Masters in Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), a BBA.LL.B from ITM University, and patent analyst training from IIPTA, she truly specializes in her field. Her passion for IPR and Criminal laws is evident from her advanced certification in Forensic Psychology and Criminal Profiling from IFS, Pune.

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