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Hate Speech

Context: The Supreme Court criticized the “silence of the state” on spiralling incidents of hate speeches made against minority communities.

What is Hate Speech?

  • Hate speech refers to words whose intent is to create hatred towards a particular group, that group may be a community, religion or race. This speech may or may not have meaning, but is likely to result in violence.
  • Hate speech can be conveyed through any form of expression, including images, cartoons, memes, objects, gestures and symbols and it can be disseminated offline or online.
  • Hate speech has not been defined in any law in India. The concept of hate speech is not defined in international law also.
  • Instead, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights calls for the prohibition by law of the advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence.

Laws and Provisions Related to Hate Speech in India

  • Constitutional Provision: Article 19(2) of the Constitution gives all citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression but subject to ‘reasonable restrictions’ for preserving inter alia ‘public order, decency or morality’.
  • Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860: Various Sections like 153A, 153B, 298 etc. of the Indian Penal Code 1860 deal with speech or words that could create mischief, outrage religious beliefs or cause imputations to national integration.
  • Representation of The People Act, 1951: Section 8 disqualifies a person from contesting election if he is convicted for indulging in acts amounting to illegitimate use of freedom of speech and expression.
    • Section 123(3A) and section 125 prohibits promotion of enmity on grounds of religion, race, caste, community, or language in connection with an election as a corrupt electoral practice.
  • Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955: Section 7 penalizes incitement to, and encouragement of untouchability through words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise.
  • Supreme court on hate speech:
    • Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan v. Union of India case: The petitioners found the existing laws related to hate speech inadequate and prayed that the State should enact stricter regulation and take peremptory action against people promoting hate speech.
    • Shreya Singhal v. Union of India: Issues were raised about Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 relating to the fundamental right of free speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution, where the Court differentiated between discussion, advocacy, and incitement and held that the first two were the essence of Article 19(1).

According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), at least 130 countries have laws or other legal instruments that prohibit hate speech, while 30 countries have constitutional provisions that directly address hate speech.

Issues with Hate Speech

Hate Speech_4.1

Challenges in Countering Hate Speech

  • Clash with the freedom of speech and expression: The anti-hate speech law is contested because of its clash with the freedom of speech and expression of an individual.
  • Curb Dissent: Any attempt to regulate hate speech need not shrink the space for criticism and dissent, which are covered by the human right of a person to free speech and expression.
  • No proper definition: There is no general legal definition of hate speech. It is difficult to identify or classify content as hate.

Way Forward

  • Law Commission Recommendation: It has proposed to add separate offences to the IPC to criminalize hate speech instead of being subsumed in the existing sections.
  • Legal measures: Laws should be adopted to punish incitement to hatred that may result in violence, hostility and discrimination.
    • They should be implemented in a non-selective, non-arbitrary and transparent manner, which should not be used to stifle dissent or the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression.
    • Alternative Dispute Resolution of Hate Speech Cases: It shifts the focus from court-centred formal legal proceedings to the settlement of the dispute between parties by way of negotiation, mediation, arbitration and/or conciliation.
  • Non-Legal Measures to Address Hate Speech:
    • Involvement of religious heads to build empathy across religious lines to reduce communal tension,
    • Strategic interventions (especially in the context of social media) to monitor the dissemination of hate speech and mob mobilisation.
    • Human rights education is the most powerful strategy to both prevent and counter hate speech.

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