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Hate Speech Laws in India

Posted by Admin on September 12, 2014 | Comment

The right to freedom of expression doesn’t include the freedom to insult someone or disrespect a community on the basis of caste, religion, race, place of birth, and language. The Indian Constitution forbids anyone from making hate speeches that disturb the harmonious co-existence. In recent times, political discourse has created much discord among the electorates. Anti-hate speech laws have long been established to tackle these aberrations.

laws prohibiting hate speech

Definition of Hate Speech

The Law Commission of India is now working towards its immediate goal – suggest laws to tackle hate speeches and decide whether the Election Commission can be empowered to de-recognise a political party for making such speeches. The major task ahead of the commission is to define the expression “hate speech” and recommend what could be the poll panel’s role in curbing it. Some legal experts have observed that the Supreme Court is finding an excuse for not taking action against politicians by waiting for the law commission to explain what constitutes hate speech.

Laws Prohibiting Hate Speech

Several sections of Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and other related laws prohibit hate speech by imposing certain restrictions on freedom of expression. According to Section 95 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the government has the right to declare certain publications as “forfeited” if the state government observes that the content published is punishable under “Section 124A or Section 153A or Section 153B or Section 292 or Section 293 or Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).”

Any expression, be it written or spoken, that is intended to create hatred or contempt against the government of India is considered  an act of sedition and the individual is booked under Section 124A of IPC. Such offences lead to imprisonment from three years to lifetime. Similarly, under Section 153A, any individual promoting communal disharmony or feelings of hatred “between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities” through spoken or written words is considered to be have committed a crime. Section 153B clearly postulates that an individual shall be punished with imprisonment for up to three years if his spoken or written words cause “disharmony or feelings of enmity or hatred or ill-will” between communities.

In order to prevent promotion of obscene content in the form of “book, pamphlet, paper, writing, drawing, and painting” and public exhibition of lascivious materials, Section 292 of IPC guarantees a maximum of five years of rigorous imprisonment and fine as punishment. In fact, selling or distributing obscene objects to any person under the age of 20 is punishable under section 293 of IPC.

Section 295(A) of the IPC has the provision of punishing any individual whose written or verbal statements indicate “deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings” of the citizens of India. Any form of expression that is made with an objective of insulting the religion or the religious beliefs of a particular class is punishable. In both the cases, the punishment could amount to both imprisonment (up to three years] and fine.  

Are Hate Laws Enforced Effectively?

If we take references from the past, it would be evident that individuals from the political fraternity had gone scot-free despite making a series of hate speeches. Leaders of religious groups and political outfits had often exchanged series of provocative speeches and yet they have not been booked under the law. The instances of the courts having been hesitant in handing out punishment to the political leaders have surfaced time and again. It was only recently that the Supreme Court asked the government’s legal experts whether political parties can be derecognised for making communally sensitive and provocative statements.

Experts are of the opinion that the courts have failed to clamp down on political figures involved in making divisive comments. Although the election commission monitors hate speeches it lacks the power to arrest or enforce laws. Hence, the fate of hate speech mongers is decided by the police, who may or may not file a case. Moreover, prolonged delays in delivering justice and low conviction rate have failed to set deterrents for hate mongers.