Hate speech denies right to dignity
Polity & Governance
6th Jan, 2023
The Public functionaries and other persons of influence, and celebrities, having regard to their reach, real or apparent and the authority and impact they wield on the public, owe a duty to the citizenry at large to be more responsible and restrained in their speech.
About the freedom of speech:
- India does not have a formal legal framework for dealing with hate speech.
- India prohibits hate speech through several sections of the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and other laws which put limitations on the freedom of expression.
- Constitutionally, Article 19gives all citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression but the said freedom of expression is subject to "reasonable restrictions" for preserving inter alia "public order, decency or morality".
The extent of free speech available to public functionaries:
- Speech must be exercised with consciousness: Every citizen of India must consciously be restrained in speech, and exercise the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1) (a)only in the sense that it was intended by the framers of the Constitution, to be exercised.
- Freedom of speech vs. right to dignity:The content of Article 19(1)(a) which does not vest with citizens unbridled liberty to utter statements which are vitriolic, derogatory, unwarranted, have no redeeming purpose and which, in no way amount to the communication of ideas.
What comes under hate speech?
- There is no international legal definition of hate speech, and the notion of what constitutes "hateful" speech is debatable.
- Hate speech is defined as any form of communication, whether spoken, written, or physical, that criticizes or discriminates against a person or a group based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender, or other identity factors.
Legal Provisions of Hate Speech in India:
- Responsible speech is the essence of the liberty granted under Article 21 of the Constitution.
- Article 19(2) of the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression to all citizens of India.
- Hate speech has not been defined in any law in India. However, legal provisions in certain legislations prohibit select forms of speech as an exception to freedom of speech.
Legislations around Hate speech:The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (hereinafter IPC);
- Section 124A IPC penalises sedition
- Section 153A IPC penalises ‘promotion of enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony’.
- Section 153B IPC penalises ‘imputations, and assertions prejudicial to national integration.
- Section 295A IPC penalises ‘deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs’.
- Section 298 IPC penalises ‘uttering, words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person’.
- Section 505(1) and (2) IPC penalises the publication or circulation of any statement, rumour or report causing public mischief and enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes
- Misuse of Laws: Lower conviction rates for these provisions indicate that the process where a police officer can arrest without a warrant is often the punishment.
- Violation of free speech: Critics have pointed out that these laws are intended for the state to step in and restore “public order” rather than protect free speech.
- Vague terms in the law: The broad, vague terms in the laws are often invoked in their misuse.
- Old-aged Laws: Section 295A lies in the communally charged atmosphere of North India in the 1920s.
- Section 295Awas passed in a different societal paradigm but as society has changed the law needs to change as well. If the law still reflects the ghosts of the past then there is no need for that law.
- Section 295Aneeds to change to accommodate both religious sentiments and freedom of expression in a harmonious manner.
- Rights of the individual need to be given the same importance as the right of the community.