In a country like India, where there is no mention of hate speech in the criminal law, it becomes one of the major concerns. Hate speech is a term frequently seen in the daily newspaper. Thus, a proper understanding of the term and its legal implications in Indian society is imperative. This law article explains the definition of the term hate speech and the laws that apply to it.
What Is Hate Speech?
There is no exact legal definition of hate speech in criminal law. However, it encompasses the words, writings, actions, signs, and manifestations that incite violence or create disharmony between communities and groups.
As per a report from the Bureau of Police Research and Development, hate speech can be defined as language that is intended to denigrate (criticise unfairly), insult, threaten, or target an individual because of their identity or other characteristics.
In its 267th report, the Law Commission of India states that hate speech is the “incitement of hatred against a group of people based on their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religion.”
In a nutshell, hate speech refers to words, signs, or other visual representations used to incite fear or alarm or incite violence in or around a person. It is considered a limitation on free speech that seeks to prevent or bar speech that exposes a person, a group or section of society to hate, violence, ridicule or indignity.
Indian Laws Dealing With Hate Speech
Here is the list of laws that deals with hate speech in India:
Indian Penal Code
Some crucial provisions in the Indian Penal Code deal with inflammatory statements and expressions that seek to punish hate speech.
- Under section 153A of the IPC, an offence punishable with three years of imprisonment for promoting enmity among different groups of people based on religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial maintaining harmony between them. It is punishable by a five-year jail term if committed in a place of worship or an assembly engaged in religious worship or religious ceremonies.
- As per section 295A of IPC, those who incite religious hatred against any group of people or religion by insulting their religion or beliefs are punishable.
- As per section 124A of the IPC, any word that promotes hatred or national disaffection against the government is punishable as sedition.
- According to section 505 of the IPC, it is an offence to make “statements conducive to public mischief.”
- Further, section 505(1) of the IPC applies to publications, reports, or rumours that incite mutiny of military personnel, or cause such fear of alarm that people commit offences against the state or public order, or should provoke or encourage an offence against a different class or community. This attracts imprisonment of up to three years.
- Section 505(2) of the IPC penalises statements that foster enmity, hatred, or ill-will between classes.
- Section 505(3) of the IPC says if someone commits the same offence in a place of worship or any other assembly that engages in religious worship or religious ceremonies, it will attract a sentence of up to five years in imprisonment.
Representation of the People Act, 1951
The Representation of the People Act, 1951 deals with the qualification, disqualification and conduct of MP or MLA. Here are its sections related to hate speech:
- Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 disqualifies a person from contesting an election if he gets convicted of using freedom of speech or expression illegitimately.
- According to sections 123(3A) and 125 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, promoting enmity based on religion, race, caste, community, or language during elections is an unconstitutional corruption of the electoral process.
The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955
Here is a hate speech related section of The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955:
- Inciting and encouraging untouchability by words, signs, or visuals is punishable under section 7 of the Protection of Civil Rights Act.
Law Commission Recommendation
According to its 267th report, the Law Commission acknowledges that discrimination faced by groups based on ‘sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation’ should also be guaranteed under hate speech laws.
The Supreme Court in Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan vs Union of India (2014) observed that regardless of the form, hate speech needs deeper investigation by the Law Commission to examine the issue raised. And, if deemed appropriate, define hate speech and make recommendations to the Parliament to strengthen the Election Commission to cop the meanest of hate speech irrespective of the form.
In the wake of this observation, in its 267th report, published in March 2017, the Law Commission said to create separate offences to criminalise hate speech specifically rather than subsuming it in existing sections concerning inflammatory acts and speeches. The commission has proposed adding two new sections to the Indian Penal Code. They are sections 153C and 505A.
1. The draft states that section 153C (of the IPC) makes it an offence if anyone:
- threatens the public, either verbally or in writing, by using signs or visual representations, or
- incites violence based on religion, race, sex, gender identity, residence, language, disability or tribe, sexual orientation, caste or community, place of birth. It proposes a two-year jail term for this or a fine of Rs 5,000 or both.
2. Section 505A (of the IPC) of the draft proposes to penalise words or displays of writings or signs that are gravely threatening or derogatory, either within earshot or sight of another person, intending to provoke unlawful violence against another person. It proposes a prison term of up to one year or/and a fine of up to Rs 5,000 or both.
Hate speech has always been debatable. It becomes a complex one to deal with in a country like India, where there are many diverse cultures and backgrounds, and it is difficult in such a country to distinguish between free speech and hate speech. Thus, the first step towards eliminating hate speech is to define it correctly. After that, there should be other initiatives such as spreading awareness at the public level to control hate speech.