DOES HATE SPEECH COVER BLASPHEMY?
WHY IN THE NEWS?
According to National Crime Record Bureau, there has been a huge increase in cases registered under both Hate speech and Blasphemy.
Freedom of Speech and Expression
- It is protected as a fundamental right in the Constitution of India under Article 19(1) (a) which states that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression.
- The freedom of speech under Article 19(1) (a) includes the right to express one’s views and opinions on any issue through any medium, e.g., by words of mouth, writing, printing, picture, film, movie, etc.
- This right “Freedom of Speech and Expression” is, however, not absolute.
- It allows Government to frame laws to impose reasonable restrictions in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency, and morality, and contempt of court, defamation, and incitement to an offense.
- A reasonable restriction has been put forth by the Indian constitution where the word reasonable should strike a balance between the use and misuse of this freedom.
- The Constitution nor statutes has not defined the term “hate speech”.
- Some sections of the Indian Penal Code(IPC) deal with hate speech and blasphemy indirectly without specifying the terms.
- Hate speeches are often characterized by their potential effects – “speeches that promote fear, incite violence, articulate, identify as divisive, indoctrinate prejudice and promote discrimination”.
- Thus, there is no unanimously agreed definition of hate speech at this point.
- As per the 267th Report of the Law Commission of India- Hate Speech is stated as an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religious belief. It must lead to an incitement of violence or cause fear or alarm.
- Hate speech is any word spoken, writings, signs, or representations with the intention to cause fear or alarm, instigates violence, spread disharmony between the communities on the basis of speech, signs, writings, or actions, and the like.
PROVISIONS REGARDING HATE SPEECH
- UNDER IPC
- Sections 153A IPC
The section penalizes ‘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
This section penalizes actions, speeches, ‘imputations, or assertions prejudicial to national integration.
- Sections 505(1) of IPC
Under this section, when someone publishes or circulates any statement, rumour, or report, —
- With the intent to cause, or is likely to cause, any officer, soldier, in the Army, Navy, or Air Force of India to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty as such shall be punished under this section.
- With the intent to cause, or is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public where any person may be induced to commit an offense against the State or against the public tranquillity.
- With the intent to incite, or is likely to incite, any class or community of persons to commit any offense against any other class or community, shall be punished under this section.
- Section 505(2) of IPC
This section deals with statements encouraging enmity, animosity, or ill-will between the classes.
- Section 505(3) of IPC
Under this section, whoever commits an offense or makes the publication and circulation of content encouraging enmity or animosity in any place of worship or in an assembly engaged in the performance of religious worship or religious ceremonies, shall be punished.
However, there is no explicit mention of “hate speech” under these provisions.
- UNDER REPRESENTATION OF PEOPLE’S ACT 1951
- Sections 123(3A) and 125 of the RPA – The section bars the promotion of animosity on the grounds of race, religion, community, caste, or language in reference to elections and includes it under corrupt electoral practices.
WHY IS IT NECESSARY TO REGULATE HATE SPEECH?
- Vague interpretation- The misinterpretation of terms under the statute often curbs free speech and expression. For instance, the provisions under 153 and 505 regarding enmity, animosity, inciting hatred, or violence are limited and subject to vague and subjective interpretation.
- Right to dissent-The right to dissent or to have and express a contrarian view with respect to current affairs or historical events is the essence of a vibrant democracy.
- Clarity- Proper definition of hate speech is necessary to regulate and punish the vocals of hate speech.
- Explicit Legislative Provisions – Formulate new laws that will make “hate speech” a separate offense.
- Adopt recommendations of committees:
- K. Visvanathan Committee 2019
- It proposed inserting Sections 153 C (b) and Section 505 A in the IPC for incitement to commit an offense on grounds of religion, race, caste or community, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, place of birth, residence, language, disability or tribe.
- Mezbaruah Committee 2014
- It proposed an amendment to Section 153 C of IPC –Promoting or attempting to promote acts prejudicial to human dignity, punishable by five years and fine or both and Section 509 A IPC (word, gesture or act intended to insult a member of a particular race), punishable by three years or fine or both.
- Law Commission
- Recommended to include section 153 C of IPC- If words, expressions, or actions gravely threatening, incitement to violence, fear or alarm should be considered as hate speech and severe penalty to be charged.
- Blasphemy, as defined in some religions or religion-based laws, is an insult that shows contempt, disrespect, or lack of reverence concerning a deity, an object considered sacred, or something considered inviolable.
- In short, “Blasphemy” includes those actions that sacrilege the God or Religion or any Sacred objects or Events.
- Section 295 of IPC
According to section 295 of the Indian Penal Code, whoever destroys, damages, or defiles any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
- International practice
Around 79 countries in the world punish blasphemy. The punishment of blasphemy varies between countries. Some countries charge even the death penalty for blasphemy such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Iran, etc.
NEED TO DIFFERENTIATE HATE SPEECH AND BLASPHEMY
- Different interpretations
- HATE SPEECH- If actions, words, signs, or representations led to incitement of violence, or fear or alarm will be punishable under Section 153 of IPC.
- BLASPHEMY-If actions led to a deliberate attempt to insult a religion or religious offense under Section 295 of IPC.
Can the mere expressions of an individual be curbed in a democratic society?
- Freedom of speech and expression is considered the symbol of civilization in a democratic nation subject to limitations.
- If the criticism or expressions include ridicule, offending a religion, prejudice, or aggravating a particular religion subsequently inciting gross violence, it should be considered as a threat against peaceful existence and should be curbed or otherwise, it should be promoted.
Does Hate speech covers Blasphemy?
The scope of Section 295 of IPC is not leading to any gross violence, fear, animosity, and hatred in society. Therefore, it does not cover hate speeches. i.e., Blasphemy under Section 295 of IPC is not comprehensively covered.
HOW IS SEGREGATION OF FREE SPEECH AND HATE SPEECH POSSIBLE?
- Define hate speech- Hate speech covers speeches leading to the incitement of gross violence, hatred, and fear, or alarm in the society. Therefore, proper definition of hate speech is to be drafted which eliminates the scope for ambiguity and the perpetrators of violence should be punished under this law.
- Remove Section 295 of IPC- Mere criticism or expression of thoughts cannot be muzzled at the cost of arising sentiments among some sections unless it causes incitement to hatred or violence.
BRIEF HISTORY OF 295
- In 1927, during the colonial period, a case under Lahore high court – Rajpal vs Emperor or Rangeela Rasool case.
- “Rangeela Rasool” was a short pamphlet, a satirical take on the domestic life of Mohammed Prophet by a close friend of Mahashay Rajpal.
- Consequently, the Muslim community filed a criminal case against Mahashay Rajpal under Sec 153A -promoting enmity between groups.
- The judge contended that Sec. 153A does not prohibit historical analysis of ‘prophets’ of different religions and if it were to be so applied, works of serious historians could also be subject to it.
- It is because although section 153 covers religion, the “Rangeela Rasool” was criticizing the religious personality which is not included under section 153.
- Therefore, the then British government introduced 295 (A), criminalizing future speech deemed insulting to religious groups, which passed easily in parliament with widespread support.
- Ramji Lal Modi v state of Uttar Pradesh Case,1957
- The constitutionality of Section 295A was questioned before the Supreme Court in the case of Ramji Lal Modi v state of Uttar Pradesh in 1957.
- The SC upheld its validity on the ground that the restriction imposed on freedom of expression by the section was reasonable and was covered under the head of “public order”.
- The reasoning of the court was that the section did not penalize any and every act of insult to religion or the religious belief of a class of citizens, but was directed to acts perpetrated with the deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feeling of a class of citizen.
- Baba Ali Khan vs Uttar Pradesh case,1960
The supreme court upheld Section 295 and stated that the link between the speech and any public disorder or the damage caused in society caused as a result of it should have a close relationship for retrieving Section 295(A) of IPC.
- Sri BaragurRamachandrappa&Ors vs the State of Karnataka case, 2007
A book published aroused the sentiments of a particular religion and the Supreme court upheld the Karnataka High Court’s verdict which banned the book.
- Shreya Singhal v. Union of India case, 2016
- The Supreme court struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
- The Court held that Section 66-A was vague and over-broad, wording to contain the freedom of Individuals as unconstitutional on grounds of violating the freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
- Misuse – It is unable to distinguish clearly whether the intention of a person is to constructive criticism or ridicule the religion.
- For example, recently some politicians made some derogatory remarks about a religious personality which incited tensions among a particular religious’ community.
- Bring new statute – Devising comprehensive legislation covering wide definitions of hate speech.
- Remove blasphemy – Does hate speech covers Blasphemy?
- Existing Blasphemy laws under section 295 of IPC do not cover hate speech. Thus, there is a need to change the existing dilemma.
- Moreover, the laws that prohibit mere religious criticism, in general, are incompatible with the principles of a democratic society.
Therefore, the failure to articulate the distinctions between criticism and hate speech diminishes fair use of section 295(A) of IPC and makes it more difficult to define and penalize the actual crime of hate speech. As per Shreya Singhal v. Union of India case, a law affecting fundamental rights cannot be vague and over broad. So, it is high time to clearly codify the “Hate speech”.
What do you understand by Hate Speech? Examine the various judgements relating to Free speech and hate speech that are complementing and in contrast.(250 Words, 15 Marks)