Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Hate speech in the time of free speech

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Free speech vs hate speech

Context

The growing incidence of hate speeches, especially those targeting minorities, in combination with the judicial ambiguity has provided an opportunity to chart legislative reforms.

Current legal provisions to deal with hate speech

  • Not defined in legal framework: Hate speech is neither defined in the Indian legal framework nor can it be easily reduced to a standard definition due to the myriad forms it can take.
  • The Supreme Court, in Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan v. Union of India (2014), described hate speech as “an effort to marginalise individuals based on their membership in a group” and one that “seeks to delegitimise group members in the eyes of the majority, reducing their social standing and acceptance within society.”
  • The Indian Penal Code illegalises speeches that are intended to promote enmity or prejudice the maintenance of harmony between different classes.
  • Specifically, sections of the IPC, such as 153A, which penalises promotion of enmity between different groups;
  • 153B, which punishes imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration;
  • 505, which punishes rumours and news intended to promote communal enmity, and
  • 295A, which criminalises insults to the religious beliefs of a class by words with deliberate or malicious intention.
  • Summing up various legal principles, in Amish Devgan v. Union of India (2020), the Supreme Court held that “hate speech has no redeeming or legitimate purpose other than hatred towards a particular group”.
  • Lack of established legal standard: Divergent decisions from constitutional courts expose the lack of established legal standards in defining hate speech, especially those propagated via the digital medium.

Suggestions

  • The Law Commission of India, in its 267th report, recommended the insertion of two new provisions to criminalise and punish the propagation of hate speech.
  • The 189th Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, in 2015, recommended the incorporation of separate and specific provisions in the Information Technology Act to deal with online hate speech.
  • Specialised legislation for social media: Much of the existing penal provisions deal with hate speech belong to the pre-Internet era.
  • The need of the hour is specialised legislation that will govern hate speech propagated via the Internet and, especially, social media.
  • Recognise hate speech as reasonable restriction to free speech: Taking cue from best international standards, it is important that specific and durable legislative provisions that combat hate speech, especially that which is propagated online and through social media.
  • Ultimately, this would be possible only when hate speech is recognised as a reasonable restriction to free speech.

Consider the question “What is hate speech? What are the challenges in dealing with hate speech? Suggest a way forward.”

Conclusion

It is important that specific and durable legislative provisions be enacted to combat hate speech.

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