Hate Speech is speech that threatens or offends a person or group on grounds of gender, race, disability, religion, etc. Also, it is a gesture or writing which is forbidden because it may raise violence towards a protected group or individual. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, 9th Edn., Hate speech is defined as “Speech that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, such as a particular race, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violence.” The Constitution of India provides the right to freedom of speech and expression to every citizen under Article 19 whereas, with the passage of time, various obstructions have been faced in terms of sedition, defamation, and hate speech. Hate speech results in hate crimes which can be due to religious and ethnic tension, caste-based discrimination, lack of political will, and misinformation on social media. People believe that they have a fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression; therefore, they use inappropriate or abusive language at public gatherings, taming once reputation. In S. Rangarajan vs. P. Jagjivan Ram, the Court stated that “the right to free speech cannot be restricted unless the situation it creates is one that endangers the community or the public interest, and that threat cannot be imagined, remote, or improbable”. Moreover, in this modern era, social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and others are used for sharing views but it has been used in a negative way to torment an individual or a group using hate speech. In order to protect an individual or a group, laws related to hate speech are introduced which are discussed briefly in this article.
In India, freedom of speech is recognized as a right in Article 19 of the Constitution of India. Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution puts “reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the freedom of speech and expression in the interests of the 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.” It has been determined that there is no formal legal framework for dealing with hate speech whereas matters related to hate speeches are dealt with under Sections 153(a), 153(b), 295(a), and 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code.
Along with this, Section 8 of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951 (RPA) states that “a person is disqualified from contesting election if he/she is convicted for indulging in acts amounting to the illegitimate use of freedom of speech and expressions.” Moreover, Sections 123(3A) and 125 prohibit the promotion of enmity based on caste, language, race, religion, or community in relation to election as a corrupt electoral practice.
A writ petition was filed before the Supreme Court by Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution pleading the top Court to issue directions that would stop the practice of hate speech. The Counsel appearing on behalf of the petitioner urged that the existing laws are insufficient and cannot fight the evil of hate speech. The Counsel appearing on behalf of the Union of India stated that the model code of conduct provides guidelines but the election commission possesses the power only when the “code of conduct” is under implementation. During the proceedings, the bench hearing the matter gave a definition for ‘hate speech’, “Hate speech is an effort to marginalize individuals based on their membership in a group. Using expression that exposes the group to hatred, hate speech seeks to delegitimize group members in the eyes of the majority, reducing their social standing and acceptance within society.” After hearing both parties, the Supreme Court was of the view that the root problem is not the absence of law but rather the lack of their effective execution.
In this case, the petitioner, Amish Devgan, while hosting a debate, intentionally insulted a Pir or pious saint belonging to Muslim Community, respected even by Hindus. The case was focused on necessary aspects of law for determining the importance and improving the knowledge regarding hate speech. Herein, Section 153(a) of IPC was interpreted. During the proceedings, the bench stated that “hate speech has no valid or redeeming motive other than hostility for a specific group.” The Supreme Court refused to grant relief to journalist Amish Devgan who had intentionally insulted a pious saint belonging to the Muslim community.
In a nutshell, hate speech is the exploitation of freedom of speech which is not just against identities, caste or religion, but also used by the powerful to alienate the powerless. Hate speech is not a freedom of speech but it is a misuse of the Right of Freedom and Expression. The Law Commission of India has proposed that two new sections, Section 153(c) and Section 505(a) should be introduced to IPC for criminalizing hate speech. Section 153(c) should make hate speech an offence that if anyone uses threatening words either spoken, written, by sign, etc. with the intention of causing fear or advocates hatred that may cause incitement to violence should be punished with two years imprisonment or a fine of 5000 rupees or both. Section 505(a) states to criminalize words, signs, etc. that are gravely threatening, with an intent to provoke the use of unlawful violence against a person or group should be punished with imprisonment of up to one year or 5000 rupees fine or both.