The true essence of democracy is felt when the ones who build the nation. The citizens, get to actually be the ones who decide as to how the functioning of a country progresses. While there are elected representatives of the people in the various houses of the legislature, it is important that the people actually get to voice out their views by speech. Otherwise, all we would be doing is handing over people the right to speak on our behalf, their own opinions.
It is not known, whether or not those opinions would have any rationale, but yet, be processed as valid arguments. These are the arguments which are ‘important’ in the process of nation-building.
Voicing out opinions, for the public, and having the right to do the same as enshrined in the constitution is what enables this country to be a democracy. Without the right of free speech, this would not be a democracy. And without democracy, the constitutional values of the Indian Constitution would lie at their grave. Hence, it is important to abide by all the clauses mentioned under the Indian Constitution, especially those under Article 19. It acts as a basic fundamental right by allowing the public and handing over to it, the right of free and fair speech.
However, with the right to free speech comes certain restrictions, keeping in mind the well-being of citizens from every class and strata of society. This is important, as being a nation of varied cultures and religions, discrimination and the superiority complex would otherwise be pertinent, and Article 19 would act as a catalyst to it.
What is hate speech?
Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression but in the interests of India’s sovereignty and integrity, the state’s security, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or concerning contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offence, the constitution allows for reasonable restrictions on free speech under article 19(2).
Hate speech is defined as “speech that has no purpose other than the display of hatred for any group, such as a specific race, especially under situations when the communication is likely to cause violence,” as mentioned in the Blacklaw’s Dictionary.
Hate speech is punishable under Section 153A, which makes it illegal to promote communal discord or emotions of hatred among various religious, ethnic, linguistic, or regional groups, castes, or communities. It is divided and observed in variety, ranging from hate against different socio-cultural groups to differences in political ideologies, or even personal differences.
The promotion of hate speech not only affects two parties. But, it might drag in a multitude of persons as parties incited by the same. For instance, hate speech might promote groups of people having differences among each other. This is because of their leader presenting ideas in a hateful manner against the opposite party which might not match their strata of thought.
Hate Speech Under Indian Penal Code
The offence of spreading religious, racial, linguistic, communal, or caste hate, within India, is classified under section 153B of the Indian Penal Code. Similarly, the offence of speaking remarks with the deliberate intent to injure someone’s religious sentiments is classified under section 298 of the IPC.
Similarly, Section 505 of the IPC makes it illegal to provide remarks that promote violence. Provisions can also be found in Sections 295A and 509A. The Supreme Court made some views in 2014 when dealing with a Public Interest Litigation seeking rules for controlling hate speech.
Politics and hate speech
Before understanding the correlation between politics, speech, the freedom of speech, and the concept of hate speech, it is important to understand what politics is, and what role a politician plays in the process of influencing people and rising among them as a leader, based on whose leadership a lot of people progress forward. Since these very politicians are the lawmakers of the country today, it is extremely important to understand that there is proper scrutiny before handing over to them, the responsibility to lead an entire mass of people.
However, in the present trends, it is quite visible that we aren’t following these steps, and have handed over governance of quite a few parts of the country to those who are more rooted in their own fundamental thoughts than the law of the land.
Be it the ruling party or leaders of the opposition, almost nobody is free of violation of certain provisions of free speech, and have led people in masses to believe in radical thoughts. Reformists and actual preachers of peace and harmony are ignored, and those endorsing fundamentalist views are ignored.
There are quite a few examples to prove the point of how hate speech is preached by leaders and Article 19 is violated. A very famous such example is the Delhi AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan. He has on multiple occasions violated various provisions of the constitution and has been booked under the IPC too.
In a very recent case, Amanatullah Khan had asked for the beheading of Swami Yati Narasinghanand Saraswati. And also demanded that his tongue be cut off. In fact, he had also led a procession of over 1 lakh people. It included mostly his party members and other radical Muslims, to carry out this task, which was unsuccessful. Khan has been booked for hate speech several times, but his stance doesn’t seem to change.
Another such example could be Akbaruddin Owaisi, the brother of Hyderabad leader Asaduddin Owaisi. He has on multiple occasions, been booked for hate speech and violent instigations. In one of his speeches, Akbaruddin, in an attempt to instil thoughts of radicalism and promote communal disharmony, threatened the Hindus of Hyderabad. He said that if for 15 minutes all police cover was removed from the city, the Muslims of the land would show the Hindus their ‘real place’.
Similarly, in a very recent case, a rally led by an ex BJP leader in Jantar Mantar was infiltrated by radical elements who declared fundamentalist thoughts against Muslims. Such is the case because politicians have found the right spot which affects the public- Religion. Since faith governs a majority part of the average Indian’s emotional sphere, it is easy to influence an individual by mentioning his/her religion. This is one of the very common occurrences in modern-day politics, and this is what leads to extensive communal disharmony.
Several provisions of the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and other regulations restricting freedom of expression in India ban hate speech. The government can declare certain publications “forfeited” under Section 95 of the Code of Criminal Procedure if the publication appears to the State Government to contain any matter punishable under Section 124A, Section 153A, Section 153B, Section 292 or Section 293 or Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code.
If a restriction isn’t covered by Art 19(2), it has to be reasonable. Exceptional events can be considered within the realm of reason, but they cannot be viewed as a regular pattern in every situation. The reasonableness test must be applied to each piece of legislation in question since the Supreme Court has decided that no abstract principles are generally made applicable to all or many instances.
Hence, while regulating hate speech too, since is important to be able to differentiate between hate speech and free speech. Since the right to free speech allows individuals to place their opinions out in the open, it shouldn’t be regulated. However, if the violation of the same provisions leads to this free speech being utilized to hurt the sentiments of other parties or to defame any party, the regulation of speech is important, since then it would be considered hate speech, which as mentioned, is prevalent in modern-day politics.
The only solution to this problem today is the Election Commission, which should take cognizance of such matters and not let parties or individuals who promote hate speech take part in the nation-building process, since then all they would help in is promoting fundamentalism and communal disharmony, further.
Edited by Megha Jain