AA Edit | What judicial wisdom has to advise on hate speech

The Asian Age.

Opinion, Edit

The court’s response came while hearing a petition seeking action on blatant attempts by Hindutva forces to excommunicate Muslims in Nuh.

Supreme Court (PTI)

The Supreme Court’s unequivocal stand against hate speech and its directive to the government apparatus that attempts to spread hatred would not be tolerated irrespective of the faith of the perpetrator or the victim is a forceful intervention by the judiciary in a matter of great concern and critical importance to the survival of the republic.

The court’s response came while hearing a petition seeking action on the blatant attempts by Hindutva forces to excommunicate Muslims in Nuh in Haryana following the clashes there three weeks ago that claimed six lives. It was pointed out that an open warning was issued to residents in a procession held by the Samasth Hindu Samaj at Hisar on August 2 that those employing Muslims in their residences or shops would be seen as “traitors” to the Hindu community. When it was pointed out in court that slogans at a rally taken out by the Indian Union Muslim League in Kanhangad in Kerala also spread hate, it reiterated that it has no plans to tolerate hate of any hue.

Till date, the executive vested with the power and responsibility to deal with such excesses has exhibited little determination to deal with the problem that has the potential to damage the social fabric of the country. This has forced the judiciary to step in and order harsh treatment of the perpetrators.

The Supreme Court’s orders in 2018 and in 2023 made it clear to the police and the administration that they have the onus of taking action against haters and that a lax attitude could call for contempt of court. The court’s repeated interventions seeking executive actions stem from its realisation that politicians will not be inclined to act against hate as they are the foremost beneficiaries of this social crime. That the nation has come to a pass where even people who sit in important constitutional posts would not mind resorting to hate speech if it brings in votes must have weighed on its mind.

Worse, politicians today do not even seem to understand what constitutes hate speech. The Law Commission has called for action against hatred by inserting a new section in the Indian Penal Code to punish those who, on grounds of religion, race, caste or community, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, place of birth, residence, language, disability or tribe use gravely threatening words, in spoken or written form. Yet the new Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita proposes to punish spoken or written words or signs that outrage the religious feelings of people only.

The lawmakers have ignored the difference between the sentiments of a person following one traditional belief system or another and the interest of the Indian citizen. The State should have no business protecting the religious sentiments of a citizen if it can ensure that they have every right to practise and profess their religion. On the other hand, it very much needs to protect them against hate directed at them owing to their religious affiliation. The politicians who thrive on playing the religion card may not want to recognise the difference, but the courts have been clear. The government must see the purpose of the judicial action, introduce a law to punish hate speech and implement it with full force. A tardy approach to this will prove costly.