A plea was filed in the Supreme Court on Thursday seeking direction to the Centre to implement a Law Commission’s report which suggested changes in penal and procedural laws to effectively deal with the offence of hate speech.
The filing of the PIL, which might be taken up within few days, assumed significance as the Delhi High Court has been critical of some of the alleged hate speeches made by politicians ahead of massive rioting in north-east Delhi in which 35 persons have died so far and around 200 injured.
The apex court in 2014 had asked it to examine if it deems proper to define hate speech and make recommendations to the Parliament to strengthen the Election Commission to curb the menace of ”hate speeches” irrespective of, whenever made.
The Law Commission had released the report following a reference made by the Supreme Court in the case of case of Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan v. Union of India. In its 267th report, the Law Commission had recommended the introduction of two more provisions in the IPC to strengthen criminal laws against hate speech.
- BJP leader and lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay, in his PIL, has sought a direction to the ministries of home and law and justice to implement the 267th report of the Law Commission, prepared in March 2017, on hate speech.
- Analysing existing Indian and offshore laws on the subject, the report had said, “Law Commission of India is of considered opinion that new provisions in IPC are required to be incorporated to address the issues.”
- The panel had suggested amendment in IPC and Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) by inserting “new section 153C (Prohibiting incitement to hatred) and section 505A (Causing fear, alarm, or provocation of violence in certain cases)”.
- The report had taken into consideration outputs from various countries and legal position in countries like the USA, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom and stated that, “Hate speech poses complex challenges to freedom of speech and expression. The constitutional approach to these challenges has been far from uniform as the boundaries between impermissible propagation of hatred and protected speech vary across jurisdictions”.
- The Law panel then also quoted that, “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”.
- It said that, “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”.
- The recent filed in the Supreme Court states that, “Responsible speech is the essence of the liberty granted under article 21 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”.
- It remarked that in a country like India, which has diverse castes, creed, religions and languages, hate speech poses a greater challenge.
- The petitioner also raised in its petition that, “The injury caused to the public is large because hate speech severely affects fraternity, dignity of individual, unity and national integration. Hate speech has potential of provoking individuals & society to commit acts of terrorism, genocides, ethnic cleansing etc. Offensive speech has real and devastating effects on people’s lives and risks their health and safety. It is harmful and divisive for communities and hampers social progress. Hate speech also offends fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19 and 21”.
- Quoting an important issue in its petitioner, the petitioner stated that, “under Section 123 RPA, appeal on the grounds of religion, race, caste, community or language etc. and promotions of feelings of enmity between different classes constitute corrupt practice but same can be questioned only by way of election petition and the Election Commission of India cannot order the investigation even when Model Code of Conduct is in force”.
- The petition also states that, “hate speeches are made to garner support from a particular party and candidate, which is against the basic dictum of a ‘Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic’ like India and these are made during the election days”.
Edited by J. Madonna Jephi
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay vs. Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) of 2020, PIL under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution filled on February 27, 2020.