What law says about Hate Speech in India?

There is no clear definition for "Hate Speech" in the IPC and the proposed Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita.

On 31 July 2023, a Railway Protection Force (RPF) constable shot dead 3 Muslim passengers and a fellow police officer on a Jaipur-Mumbai train, and on the same day, we heard the riots at a Vishwa Hindu Parishad rally in Nuh, Haryana. Both these incidents were motivated by religious hatred.

A letter was also sent to the police and administration by the panchayats of 14 villages in Haryana, asking them to socially and economically ignore members of the Muslim community. This has become a matter of grave concern and fear for the minorities across India.

In addition to this, violence due to communal hatred has spread in Gurugram as well. Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal have announced protests across Delhi. These rallies may lead to large-scale violence. Therefore, after journalist Shaheen Abdullah filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking an urgent order to the Union and State Governments to prevent such incidents, a bench comprising Justices Sanjeev Khanna and SVN Patti heard this petition (Shaheen Abdulla vs. Union of India and ORS) on 11 August.

It is noteworthy that while the Supreme Court has given a verdict in the case related to this petition that states should be sent instructions to prevent incidents of hate speech and a committee should be set up by August 18 to examine the prevention of such incidents, and the hearing has been adjourned to August 25.

Significant increase in hate speech in India:

‘Hatred’ is having contempt for a person or a particular group on the basis of religion, caste, language, or ethnicity and the deliberate differentiation of them in a way that incites communalism, which may result in discrimination, social exclusion. It may even go the extent of genocide. It is because of this hatred that the number of crimes in India has increased significantly.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for the year 2021, the number of IPC Crimes in India in 2001 alone was 17,69,308. This number has increased to 23,25,575 in 2011 and 32,25,597 in 2019. Accordingly, the total number of crimes (IPC and SLL) that occurred in 2021 alone is 36,63,360.

When it comes to cases specifically related to hate speech, 323 cases have been registered in 2014. This number has increased almost six-fold to 1,804 cases in 2020.

Indian Laws Against Hate Speech:

There is no law in India that is fully dedicated to defining and criminalising hate speech. The Bezbaruah Committee set up in 2014 proposed inclusion of Section 153 C and Section 509 A of the IPC. Similarly, the Viswanathan Committee constituted in 2019 proposed adding Sections 153 C (B) and Section 505 A to the IPC for incitement to commit crime on the basis of religion, race, caste, community, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, place of birth, domicile and language. But these recommendations have not been added to the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Moreover, the Law Commission has also proposed that hate speech should be clearly defined in the IPC and included as separate offences to prevent the increasing incidence of hate speech offences, rather than being clubbed under the sections concerning inflammatory acts and speeches. The proposed Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita that would replace the IPC too does not define hate speech as a separate offense.

How is hate speech dealt now?

The following laws deal with the spread of hatred, attack on religious sentiments, dissemination of information in public and forbid untouchability.

The above statutes do not directly deal with the issue of hate speech but have been elaborately interpreted by the Supreme Court to limit these provisions under the reasonable restrictions of Article 19(2) of the Constitution. And these only describe prohibitions of certain types of speech and expression.

What can be done?

We can see that not only in India but all over the world, there have been many incidents related to hate speech. Social media giant Facebook, for example, deleted nearly 3 million hate speech posts on its site in 2018 alone (between July and September). Similarly, YouTube has removed 25,000 videos from its site.

So, it has been the request of social activists that people should be educated to prevent them from falling prey to communalism and developing a sense of mistrust and hatred for a person or a particular group of people based on their race, religion, caste and language etc.

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