Panel formed to define Hate speech
● Recently, A panel constituted by the Union Home Ministry to suggest reforms to the Indian Penal Code (IPC) is likely to propose a separate Section on “offences relating to speech and expression.”
● 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. In 2019, the Ministry decided to overhaul the IPC, framed in 1860 and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC)
Without a clear definition, it is difficult to decide what constitutes hate speech. Comment in context of legal provision related to “hate speech”.
Need for a clear definition of “hate speech”:
● Responsible speech is the essence of the liberty granted under Article 19(a) of the Constitution. One of the greatest challenges before the principle of autonomy and free speech principle is to ensure that this liberty is not exercised to the detriment of any individual or the disadvantaged section of the society.
● The constitution provides for reasonable restrictions through Article 19(2) on Freedom of expression and speech.
● Without a clear definition, it is difficult to decide what constitutes hate speech.
● Critics argued that undefined ’hate speech’ gives authorities wide power and is often used to silence political dissents.
● In a country like India, with diverse castes, creeds, religions and languages, hate speech poses a greater challenge.
Legislations around hate speech:
Hate speech has not been defined in any law in India. However, legal provisions in certain legislations prohibit select forms of speech as an exception to freedom of speech.
● The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (hereinafter IPC)
➢ Section 124A IPC penalises sedition
➢ Section 153A IPC penalises the promotion of enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony.
➢ Section 153B IPC penalises imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration.
➢ Section 295A IPC penalises deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.
➢ Section 298 IPC penalises uttering, words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person.
➢ Section 505(1) and (2) IPC penalises publication or circulation of any statement, rumour or report causing public mischief and enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes.
● The Representation of The People Act, 1951
➢ Section 8 disqualifies a person from contesting election if he is convicted for indulging in acts amounting to the illegitimate use of freedom of speech and expression.
➢ Section 123(3A) and section 125 prohibits the promotion of enmity on grounds of religion, race, caste, community or language in connection with election as a corrupt electoral practice and prohibits it.
Recommendations for changes in IPC:
➢ 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.
➢ The Bezbaruah Committee constituted by the Centre in February 2014 in the wake of series of racial attacks on persons belonging to the northeast had in a report proposed amendment to Section 153C of IPC (promoting or attempting to promote acts prejudicial to human dignity), punishable by five years and fine or both and Section 509A IPC (word, gesture or act intended to insult a member of a particular race), punishable by three years or fine or both.
● Democracy thrives on disagreements provided they do not cross the boundaries of civil discourse. Critical and dissenting voices are important for a vibrant society. However, care must be taken to prevent public discourse from becoming a tool to promote speech inimical to public order.
● A clear definition of “hate speech” will define the boundary between permissible speech and hate speech.