Q. Critically analyse the need for a comprehensive law dedicated to handle a rise in case of hate speech in the country. (150 Words)
- Source: The Hindu - Page 7/OPED: Tackling hate speech
- GS 1: Society - Communalism
Introduction: Indian society has been facing the problem of hate speech for ages which often lead to mobilization and violence including incidents like riots. In this context it had been held that there should be a comprehensive law for handling hate speech.
Reasons for a comprehensive law addressing hate speech:
- It threatens Peace & Tranquality: Liberal democracies prohibit some types of speech on grounds that they are ‘injurious’.
- For Protection of Individual dignity: It is based on the dignity and equality of individuals. Every person is entitled to basic human dignity and decent treatment.
- Removing discrimination: Hate speech views members of the target group as an enemy within, refuses to accept them as legitimate and equal members of society, lowers their social standing, and subverts the very basis of a shared life. It creates barriers of mistrust and hostility between individuals and groups, plants fears, obstructs normal relations, and exercises a corrosive influence on the conduct of collective life.
- Against Liberty: In Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan v. Union of India (2014), the Supreme Court of India said that hate speech “impacts a protected group’s ability to respond to the substantive ideas under debate, thereby placing a serious barrier to their full participation in our democracy.”
- Poor legal position: Since in India, hate speech is not defined under the Constitution or in the penal statutes, the law enforcement agencies use a variety of acts subjectively. These include, IPC - 153A(promoting enmity), 124A (sedition), provisions of Representation of people's act 1951, Cinematograph act, 1952; Cable TV Network regulation act, 1995 etc.
- Increasing Online content: In the new age of digital media, anonymity has given new dimension to hate speech. The Removal of 66A of IT Act in the Shreya Singhal v. UoI which criminalized a speech on electronic medium has further strengthened the need for a new act..
Problems and challenges with any such act:
- Political Misuse: The law, in contemporary politics, suffers from disuse and misuse. The government may use it against political opponents.
- Subjective Implementation: at the operational level, the law enforcement agencies may ignore some remarks made against the minority and on the other, vague references against the majoritarian agenda are often charged under this provision.
- Difficult to design a new law: It is not easy to design an accurate anti-hate speech law, due to its complex nature and inherent potential for misuse.
- Duplicity: The previous laws and the new law would be at the loggerheads.
- Federal issues: The Supreme court in the Tasleen S. Poonawalla v. Union of India recommended that there should be law in regards to mob lynching. However, Law & order is a state subject. Centre led initiative could create problems in this regard. Currently only a few states like Manipur and Rajasthan have such laws.
Way Forward - As suggested by the 267th Law Commission report of India released in 2017.
- Universal Standards: There is a need to revise and strengthen the existing antidiscrimination legislation so as to meet universal standards on equality across all groups, communities, men and women;
- Punishing Incitement: Laws should be adopted to punish incitement to hatred that may result in violence, hostility and discrimination.
- Non-partisan application/not stifling dissent: They should be implemented in a non-selective, non-arbitrary and transparent manner, which should not be used to stifle dissent or the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression;
- Global partnership: Fight against hate speech cannot be isolated. It should be discussed on a wider platform such as the United Nations. Every responsible government, regional bodies and other international and regional actors should respond to this threat.
Conclusion: A comprehensive law for hate speech is the need of the hour. But it faces certain complex issues. The implementation of the recommendations of the 267th Law Commission report of India is necessary in this regard which can help in ironing out different issues.