This article is authored by Sanskriti Goel , a 1st year law student from Chanderprabhu Jain College of Higher Studies and School of law, GGSIPU. This article deals exhaustively with constitutional law, criminal laws, election laws and IT laws in context of hate speech.
“There is a fine line between free speech and hate speech. Free speech encourages debate whereas hate speech incites violence.”
What is Meant by Hate Speech
The Black’s Law dictionary defines hate speech as—“Speech that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, such as a particular race, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violence.”
The Law Commission of India, in its 267th report, defined hate speech as —“Hate speech generally is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief. Thus, hate speech is any word written or spoken, signs, visible representations within the hearing or sight of a person with the intention to cause fear or alarm, or incitement to violence.”
The right to freedom of speech and expression is recognised as a core right all across the globe. With modernisation, the world was gifted with internet, the purpose of which was to connect people with their loved ones. But unfortunately, some people use it to spread hatred. In today’s world, the ideas that we share and the words that we speak spread like wildfire.
Constitutional Law and Hate Speech
Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India gives the right to freedom of speech and expression to all Indian citizens. This article guarantees right to propagate one’s ideas freely and to publish, distribute and circulate their idea. The freedom of speech and expression essentially means the liberty to express one’s own stance through the words either written or spoken. However, Article 19(2) also provides ‘reasonable restrictions’ on the freedom of speech and expression. This means that this right is not absolute rather conditional and the government can ‘reasonably’ limit the right to freedom of speech and expression when there is a threat to the sovereignty and integrity of India, or the security of the stat, or friendly relations with foreign state, or public order, or decency, or morality, or contempt of court, or defamation, or incitement to an offence.
The ‘public order’ restriction saves majority of hate speech laws from unconstitutionality in India. In landmark judgement of Ramji Lal Modi v. The State of UP (1957 AIR 620), the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India upheld Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and observed that a law may not directly deal with public order , it could be read as in ‘interest of public order’.
The Indian Penal Code and Hate Speech
The following sections of Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) deal with hate speech:
- Section 153A criminalises the promotion of enmity among different groups of people on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, language, etc., and acts that are prejudicial to maintaining harmony. Whoever commits this offense shall be punishable with imprisonment of up to three years, or with fine, or with both. Additionally, whoever commits such offense in any place of worship or in any assembly engaged in the performance of religious worship or religious ceremonies shall be punished with imprisonment of up to five years and fine.
- Section 153B punishes making of imputations or assertions prejudicial to national-integration with imprisonment of up to three years, or with fine, or with both. The section also defines increased punishment of imprisonment of up to five years and fine when the aforementioned offense is committed any place of worship or in any assembly engaged in the performance of religious worship or religious ceremonies.
- Section 295 criminalises the destruction, damage or defilement of places of worship or sacred objects with the intention of insulting, or with the knowledge that such an act is likely to be considered insulting to the religious sentiments of a class of persons. The punishment prescribed in the section is imprisonment for two years, or fine, or both.
- Section 295A punishes whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of persons, by word, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representation, insults the religion or the religious beliefs of such class, with imprisonment of up to three year, or with fine , or with both.
- Section 298 states that whoever, utters any word or makes any sound or gesture, with the deliberate intention of hurting the religious feelings of any person, shall be punished with imprisonment of up to one year, or with fine, or with both.
- Section 505 punishes statements made with the intention of inducing, or are likely to induce, fear in the public, instigating them towards public disorder; statements made with the intention of inciting, or are likely to incite, class or community violence; and discriminatory statements that might promote inter-community hatred. The punishment stipulated is imprisonment of up to three years, or with fine, or with both.
The Code of Criminal Procedure and Hate Speech
Following sections of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) deal with hate speech:
(1) Section 95 and Section 96 authorise the state government to forfeit any ‘book, newspaper or document’, the publication of which is punishable under Section 124A, section 153A, Section 153B, Section 292, Section 293, and Section 295A of the IPC.
(2) Section 196 acts as a procedural safeguard against frivolous prosecution for hate speech offences, such as those under Sections 153A, 295A, 505 and 153B of the IPC.
The Representation of the People Act, 1951
The Representation of the People Act, 1951 (RoPA) contains the laws that regulate the conduct of elections in India.
- Section 8(1)(a) disqualifies a person from contesting in election if he/she was convicted under Sections 153A and 505 of the IPC.
- Section 123(3A) considers promotion of enmity or hatred among different classes of citizens of India for the furtherance of the prospects of the election of a candidate or for prejudicially affecting the election of any candidate as a corrupt practice.
- Section 125 says that promotion of enmity or hatred among different communities is an electoral offense and is punishable with imprisonment of up to three years, or with fine, or with both.
Information Technology Act and Hate Speech
Following section of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act) deals with hate speech:
- Section 69A empowers the Central Government or any of its authorised officers to issue directions for blocking for public access of any information which is in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above.
- The Constitution of India Act, 1949
- The Indian Penal Code, 1860
- The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
- The Representation of the People Act, 1951
- The Information Technology Act, 2000
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