This article on ‘Supreme Court’s Order: States to Register Suo Moto FIRs against Hate Speech’ was written by Ashok Kumar Chaudhary, an intern at Legal Upanishad.
The recent Supreme Court of India order has brought back attention to the problem of hate speech and its effects on society. The court has taken a brave step towards ensuring that those who encourage hatred between various groups are held accountable for their actions by directing all states to register Suo moto FIRs against hate speeches. The decision comes in response to a PIL filed by social activist Shabnam Hashmi and others, highlighting the need for effective measures to curb hate speech and promote social harmony.
This development underscores the importance of protecting the diversity and unity of India and sends a clear message that hate speech will not be tolerated in any form. This article will talk about the history of hate speech in India along with the provisions governing it. The author tries to analyse recent cases in India along with the latest Supreme court order to register Suo Moto FIRs against hate speech.
HISTORY OF HATE SPEECH
- In recent times, India has witnessed a troubling surge in the prevalence of hate speech, posing a significant challenge to societal harmony and the nation’s unity. Hate speech encompasses various forms of expression such as spoken or written words, deeds, conduct, or any other visible representations that can incite violence or promote animosity towards a specific group based on their religion, ethnicity, caste, gender, or other distinguishing characteristics. India’s history is marred by instances where hate speech has played a pivotal role in igniting intercommunal conflicts. Infamous events such as the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition, and the 2002 Gujarat riots serve as grim reminders of the destructive power of hate speech, leading to riots and acts of violence.
- To address this issue, India has enacted several laws such as the Indian Penal Code, the Representation of People Act, and the Information Technology Act, among others, aimed at curbing hate speech. However, despite the existence of these legal frameworks, hate speech continues to persist in the country. One of the major challenges in combating hate speech lies in the absence of a precise and universally accepted definition that demarcates its boundaries.
- Distinguishing between free speech and hate speech often hinges on contextual factors, making it a complex task to draw a line between the two. Efforts to counter hate speech necessitate a multi-faceted approach that combines legal measures, public awareness campaigns, and proactive initiatives to foster a culture of tolerance and inclusivity. It is imperative for society as a whole to actively promote respect, understanding, and empathy, while simultaneously encouraging robust dialogue that respects the dignity and rights of all individuals.
PROVISIONS UNDER THE INDIAN PENAL CODE
- Section 153A (1) (a) of the Indian Penal Code is an essential provision aimed at promoting social harmony and preventing the incitement of violence and hatred between different groups based on their religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, or other such factors. This provision seeks to deter individuals from engaging in hate speech, which can cause disharmony and undermine the unity and integrity of the nation.
- The use of language that promotes enmity or hatred between different groups is a serious offence under this section. Any person who attempts to incite such feelings by spoken or written words, signs, or visible representations shall be liable for imprisonment for up to three years, with a fine, or with both.
- Section 153A (1) (a) has played a vital role in protecting the secular and democratic fabric of India. The Supreme Court’s recent directive to register Suo moto FIRs against hate speech under this section underscores the gravity of the issue and emphasizes the need to take strict action against those who attempt to disturb the peace and harmony of society. It serves as a reminder that promoting hatred and enmity between different groups is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in a diverse and inclusive country like India.
- IPC Section 505(1)(b) prohibits the dissemination of propaganda and false information that might alarm or frighten the public. The section aims to maintain public order and tranquillity by making it illegal for individuals to intentionally spread false information that can lead to violence or public disorder.
- Under this provision, any person who makes, publishes, or disseminates any statement, rumour, or report that is likely to incite fear or alarm in the public at large, or in any segment of the public, to persuade someone to violate the law or disturb the peace of the community, faces up to 3 years in prison, a fine, or both. The provision is particularly relevant in today’s digital age where information spreads rapidly and can have far-reaching consequences. It emphasizes the importance of reliable communication and the need to exercise caution while disseminating information, especially on sensitive topics.
- The recent directive by the Supreme Court of India to register Suo moto FIRs against hate speech under Section 505(1)(b) is a significant step towards promoting social harmony and preventing the spread of hate speech. It reiterates the importance of reliable communication and serves as a reminder that any attempt to spread false information that can incite violence or disturb public order will be dealt with strictly.
RECENT SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENT
Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by social activist Shabnam Hashmi and others sought directions to all states to take effective steps to curb hate speeches and to register FIRs against those who indulge in hate speech. The PIL also sought the establishment of special courts to try cases related to hate speech. After hearing the PIL, the Supreme Court of India stated that hate speech seriously threatened the unity and integrity of the country. The Court stated that such speeches can disturb public peace and promotes hatred between various groups.
In a historic ruling on May 7th, 2023, the Supreme Court of India delivered a ground- breaking judgment that has far-reaching implications for maintaining social harmony and public tranquillity. Responding to the pressing issue of hate speech, the Court has mandated that all states must now register Suo moto First Information Reports (FIR) against individuals involved in propagating hatred and animosity between various groups, as outlined in Section 153A (1) (a) and Section 505(1) (b) of the Indian Penal Code.
Under Section 153A (1) (a) of the Indian Penal Code, the promotion of hostility based on religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, and other factors is explicitly prohibited. Any person who deliberately fosters or attempts to foster feelings of enmity or hatred between different groups through spoken or written words, signs or visible representations can be penalized with imprisonment for a term of up to three years, a fine, or both. This provision aims to safeguard societal harmony by curbing the dissemination of divisive ideologies.
Moreover, Section 505(1)(b) addresses the dissemination of statements that are likely to frighten or alarm the general public. According to this provision, individuals who make, publish, or spread any statement, rumour, or report that has the potential to instil fear or provoke alarm within the public or a specific segment of society can be subject to imprisonment for a maximum period of three years, a fine, or both. This provision acts as a deterrent against spreading misinformation or creating an atmosphere of unrest.
By directing the registration of Suo moto FIRs against hate speeches under these specific sections of the Indian Penal Code, the Supreme Court has taken a significant step towards curbing the spread of hatred and ensuring public order. This decision underscores the Court’s commitment to safeguarding the principles of equality, unity, and peaceful coexistence among diverse groups within the country.
Hate speech is a serious problem that threatens the unity and integrity of a nation. It can lead to violence, discrimination, and social unrest. Therefore, governments and law enforcement agencies need to take strict action against hate speech and create awareness about its harmful effects on society. The recent landmark decision by the Supreme Court of India to direct all states to register Suo moto FIRs against hate speech under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code is a step in the right direction.
It sends a strong message to those who engage in hate speech that such activities will not be tolerated, and that they will be held accountable for their actions. All individuals need to understand that freedom of speech does not include the right to spread hatred and create disharmony in society. By promoting tolerance and respect for diversity, we can create a more peaceful and inclusive society.
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