Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Hate speech


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Dealing with the hate speech


Hate speech is at the root of many forms of violence that are being perpetrated and has become one of the biggest challenges to the rule of law and to our democratic conscience.

Consequences of hate speech

  • Electoral mobilisation along the communal line: One of the most visible consequences of hate speech is increased electoral mobilisation along communal lines which is also paying some electoral dividends.
  •  Hate speech, in itself, must be understood and treated as a violent act and urgently so.
  • With elected members currently sitting in the legislative assemblies and Parliament giving political sanction to citizens mobilised into mob violence and complicit public officials, hate speech is becoming the dominant mode of public political participation. 

Role of Election Commission

  • In 2019, the Supreme Court reprimanded the Election Commission, calling it “toothless” for not taking action against candidates engaging in hate speech during the election campaigns in UP.
  • The Commission responded by saying that it had limited powers to take action in this matter. 
  • So far, the Supreme Court does not appear to have acted decisively in response to allegations of hate speech in electoral campaigns, indicating that the EC must assume more responsibility and the EC has argued that in matters of hate speech, it is largely “powerless”.
  • In any case, the EC’s role is confined to the election period.

Legal provisions to deal with hate speech

  • The Indian Penal Code, as per Sections 153A, 295A and 298, criminalises the promotion of enmity between different groups of people on grounds of religion and language, alongside acts that are prejudicial to maintaining communal harmony.
  • Section 125 of the Representation of People Act deems that any person, in connection with the election, promoting feelings of enmity and hatred on grounds of religion and caste is punishable with imprisonment up to three years and fine or both.
  • Section 505 criminalises multiple kinds of speech, including statements made with the intention of inducing, or which are likely to induce, fear or alarm to the public.
  • It covers incitement of violence against the state or another community, as well as promotion of class hatred.

Recommendations and suggestions

  • The Law Commission in its 267th report published in March 2017, recommended introduction of new provisions within the penal code that specifically punish incitement to violence in addition to the existing ones.
  • Responsibility of Media: In recent years, hate speech in all its varieties has acquired a systemic presence in the media and the internet, from electoral campaigns to everyday life.
  • This epidemic of mediatised hate speech is, in fact, a global phenomenon.
  • According to the Washington Post, 2018 can be considered as “the year of online hate”.


Enough damage has been done. We cannot wait another day to address this growing challenge.

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