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Governments have a solution to hate speech

Virag Gupta
Hate speech has been criticized by the Supreme Court several times but a few days ago the judges gave a strong message about it by issuing a written order. This order is interim. That is, the final verdict will be pronounced after the answers of the governments and the cross-examination of the lawyers. Although the mandate is strict, it has some weaknesses.

  • First, there was no fixed time limit for the police to act and the governments to respond, and no fixed date was set for the next hearing.
  • Secondly, according to the law, if the police do not register an FIR in these cases, the matter should proceed in the magistrate’s court. But the Supreme Court issued a direct notice under Article 32.
  • Thirdly, leaders of all religions have been making mistakes regarding hate speech, so issuing notices only in cases of hate speech against the Muslim religion is insufficient.
  • Fourth, the virus of hate speech has spread across the country through social media. So the response of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand governments alone will not change the picture.
  • Fifth, this interim order speaks of defamation against the police officers. But the judges did not take any action against those who registered the case on the repealed law of 66-A.

Three main points
Now UAPA against people who spread hatred. Unnecessary demand to use can worsen if the situation worsens. Therefore, before treating the canker of hate speech properly, it is necessary to examine three important aspects.

  • Constitution and laws against hate speech – Sections 153-A and 295-A of the two-century-old Indian Penal Code (IPC) contain provisions to prevent offenses like religious bigotry and hate speech. The Preamble of the Constitution speaks of fraternity and equality among citizens in the chapter on Fundamental Rights. When an article or speech of hate speech is broadcast to the public, it becomes a serious offence. This can lead to imprisonment of up to three years.
  • Apart from the IPC against hate speech, India has many other laws – Representation of the People Act 1951 for election campaigning, Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955 to prevent caste hatred, Cinematography Act 1952 and Censor Board for cinema, newspapers and print media. Press Council Act 1978, Prevention of Hate Speech from Places of Religion Act 1988, Cable TV Act 1995 for Video and TV, Information Technology Act 2000.
  • In the 21st century, as new methods of spreading hatred are invented, we are caught in a legal definition controversy. Due to this failure of the government and parliament, where there is confusion in the courts, the business of hate is in full swing.
  • Previous judgments of the Supreme Court: In the Ramjeelal Modi case in 1957, the Supreme Court upheld Section 295A of the IPC. According to the court, there are several restrictions and exceptions to freedom of expression under Article 19(2) of the Constitution, according to which a case can be registered under Section 295A of the IPC to maintain public peace and harmony.
  • In the Ramlal Puri case in 1973, the Supreme Court held that as a general rule, hate speech should be prosecuted. It is not appropriate to abuse the law on allegations of hurting sentiments in a highly sensitive manner.
  • The Supreme Court has referred the matter to the Law Commission to properly define hate speech in the Migrant Welfare Organization case. The commission submitted the report to Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in 2017. Under this, it was recommended to amend the IPC by adding two new statutory provisions 153(c) and 505(a).
  • When the issue of banning hate speech in elections came up again before the Supreme Court, the Election Commission sought a clear law and statutory powers to de-recognise parties, according to the Law Commission report.

Despite the cancellation of Section 66-A of the IT Act against hate speech by the Supreme Court, governments are registering cases under it. The police, who used to bulldoze political matters, are now arbitrarily silent and raising their voices in cases of hate speech. Therefore, it is important to understand the context of past cases before making new Supreme Court guidelines or judgments against hate speech. According to NCRB data, a total of 13 cases were registered under Section 153A and 323 under Section 153B in the year 2014. While in 2020 their numbers were 1804 and 82. The number of crimes registered under both laws increased five to six times, while the conviction rate in these cases was only 15 to 20 percent.

Scary picture
Still, these cases don’t paint a grim picture of hate speech. With the proliferation of smartphones and social media, the mix of hate speech is quadrupling day by day. In the last 16 months, WhatsApp has banned 24 million accounts in India. Internet companies, electoral politics of politicians and IT cells belonging to all parties are involved in this game. In the age of social media, TV debates and WhatsApp, hate speech has divided society. A glimpse of this grim picture can be seen in the interim orders of Supreme Court judges. To effectively curb hate speech, leaders will have to relearn the lesson of respecting constitutional values ​​beyond electoral political gain.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are those of the author.

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