Preventing harm: On judicial intervention against hate speech

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Context: After the Supreme Court called for “corrective measures” against the peddling of communal hate from supposedly religious platforms, the authorities in Uttarakhand have prevented the holding of a ‘dharam sansad’ in Roorkee by imposing prohibitory orders against such gatherings.

Recently, many such cases have come to the forefront wherein inflammatory speeches against particular communities have been made from supposedly religious platforms.

To prevent any damage to the social fabric of our country, judicial intervention is, thus, supremely important.

Why a strict action on such incidents is required?

Provocateurs making hate speeches are trying to inculcate a collective sense of fear among the majority that their interests are not being protected by an allegedly minority-friendly Constitution.

The possible damage to the social fabric is incalculable, as the language of hatred may seep into the public consciousness as an acceptable thought process.

The result may be an atmosphere in which communal harmony and public tranquillity will be at perennial risk.

Way forward

Modern democracies make a clear distinction between freedom of expression and speech that tends to incite hatred against a public group or section of society.

Keeping this in mind, the Supreme Court in cases relating to lynching and ‘khap panchayats’, has laid down guidelines on preventive, remedial and punitive measures. While these are to be followed without exceptions, there is also a need for considering new criminal and penal provisions to combat hate speech.

Instances of controversial religious figures making unacceptable comments at different places and occasions have emerged as a disturbing pattern, one that the Court may have to arrest by stern action.

Source: This post is based on the article “Preventing harm: On judicial intervention against hate speech” published in The Hindu on 28th Apr 22.

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