Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Panel to define offences of Speech, Expression


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Hate Speech vs Free Speech

A panel constituted by the Union Home Ministry to suggest reforms to the British-era Indian Penal Code (IPC) is likely to propose a separate Section on “offences relating to speech and expression.”

Panel to define hate speech

  • As there is no clear definition of what constitutes a “hate speech” in the IPC, the Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws is attempting for the first time to define such speech.
  • Legally speaking, for criminal Sections to be invoked, any such speech has to lead to violence or disturbance of law and order.

What constitutes Hate Speech?

  • Hate speech can be defined as “public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group based on something such as race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation”.
  • The word ‘hate speech’ as is a loaded term and merely criticizing someone is not hate speech.
  • There has been much debate over freedom of speech, hate speech and hate speech legislation.

Indian attempts for definition

  • The Bureau of Police Research and Development recently published a manual for investigating agencies on cyber harassment cases.
  • It has defined hate speech as a language that denigrates, insults threatens or targets an individual based on their identity and other traits (such as sexual orientation or disability or religion etc.).
  • Earlier in 2018, the Home Ministry had written to the Law Commission to prepare a distinct law for online “hate speech”.
  • A committee was formed in the wake of Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000, which provided punishment for sending offensive messages through communication services.
  • In 2019, however, the Ministry decided to overhaul the IPC, framed in 1860 and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) after seeking suggestions from various stakeholders.

Recommendations of various committees

  • The Viswanathan committee proposed inserting Sections 153 C (b) and Section 505 A in the IPC for incitement to commit an offence on grounds of religion, race, caste or community, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, place of birth, residence, language, disability or tribe.
  • It proposed punishment by up to two years along with ₹5,000 fine.
  • The Bezbaruah Committee was constituted by the Centre in February 2014 in the wake of series of racial attacks on persons belonging to the northeast.
  • It proposed amendment to Section 153 C IPC (promoting or attempting to promote acts prejudicial to human dignity), punishable by five years and fine or both and Section 509 A IPC (word, gesture or act intended to insult a member of a particular race), punishable by three years or fine or both.

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