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Hate Speech

Context: As per the recent analysis made by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), around 107 MPs and MLAs have hate speech cases against them and 480 candidates with such cases have contested elections in the last five years.

Key Observations:

  • Total Number of Cases: A total of 107 Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) were found to have hate speech cases against them.
  • Distribution of Cases: Among the MPs, 33 had declared cases related to hate speech against themselves.
    • These cases were distributed across various states, with Uttar Pradesh having the highest number of MPs with hate speech cases.
    • Among the MLAs, 74 had declared hate speech cases against themselves, with Bihar and Uttar Pradesh having the highest number of such lawmakers.
  • Political Affiliations: Among the MPs, 22 lawmakers with hate speech cases were from the ruling party and there were also representatives from other political parties like Congress, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), AIMIM, AIUDF, DMK, MDMK, PMK, Shiv Sena, and VCK.
    • Among the MLAs, hate speech cases were found against members of various political parties, including BJP, Congress, AAP, SP, YSRCP, DMK, RJD, AITC, SHS, AIUDF, AIMIM, CPI(M), NCP, Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, TDP, Tipra Motha Party, and TRS, as well as Independent MLAs.
  • Contested Elections: Over the last five years, 480 candidates with declared hate speech cases contested elections for state assemblies, the Lok Sabha, and the Rajya Sabha.
  • Geographical Distribution: Hate speech cases were reported across multiple states in India, indicating that this issue is not confined to a specific region but is prevalent in various parts of the country.

Hate Speech_4.1

What is hate speech?

  • Hate speech refers to words whose intent is to create hatred towards a particular group, the group being a community, ethnicity, 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 neither not defined in international law.
  • However, 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, 505 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.
  • Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC): It provides for the arrest of individuals who have committed a cognizable offense, such as hate speech.
  • Indian Information Technology (IT) Act: It regulates online speech, including hate speech. Under the act, intermediaries such as social media platforms are required to remove content that is in violation of the law within 36 hours of being notified.

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.

  • 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).

Issues with hate speech:

Hate Speech_5.1

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 mobilization.
    • Human rights education is the most powerful strategy to both prevent and counter hate speech.

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