Moving a step ahead towards framing a distinct law for online “hate speech,” the Home Ministry has written to the Law Commission to prepare a draft law. The provisions will deal with offensive messages sent through social media and online messaging applications.
The decision came after a committee headed by former Lok Sabha Secretary General T.K. Viswanathan submitted a report recommending stricter laws to curb online hate speech. The panel was formed after Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, was scrapped by the Supreme Court in 2015.
The scrapped provision provided punishment for sending offensive messages through communication services.
A senior National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) official said there is no comprehensive data available on cases in which rumours and hate speech insinuations were made through social media and WhatsApp.
“Such crimes are being registered under various other sections like sedition or other sections of the Information Technology Act. If the law is amended, it will provide us with the extent of the problem,” said the official. The 267th report of the Law Commission had recommended inserting additional provisions in Sections 153 505 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
RI and fine
The proposed 153 C (b) IPC —‘incitement to hatred,’ recommended that the crime be punishable by two years imprisonment and ₹5,000 fine or both.
The proposed law says, “Whoever on grounds of religion, race, caste or community, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, place of birth, residence, language, disability or tribe, uses any means of communication to - (a) gravely threaten any person or group of persons with the intention to cause fear of injury or alarm; or (b) advocate hatred towards any person or group of persons that causes, or is likely to cause, incitement to commit an offence.”
The other provision Section 505 A IPC said “Whoever in public intentionally….uses words, or displays any writing, sign, or other visible representation which is gravely threatening, or derogatory; (i) within the hearing or sight of a person, causing fear or alarm, or; (ii) with the intent to provoke the use of unlawful violence, against that person or another, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year and/or fine up to ₹5000, or both.”
A senior Home Ministry official said the Law Commission has been asked to include its earlier recommendations, and those from the Viswanathan and M.P. Bezbaruah committees, to give a “comprehensive draft law.”
The Bezbaruah committee had proposed to insert two stricter anti-racial discrimination provisions in the IPC. Only four States Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram, Uttar Pradesh and three union territories — Andaman and Nicobar, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Lakshwadeep agreed to the Centre’s proposal.
The proposed amendment section 153 C IPC (promoting or attempting to promote acts prejudicial to human dignity) would be punishable by five years and fine or both; Section 509 A IPC (word, gesture or act intended to insult member of a particular race) would be punishable by three years or fine or both.
The official said once the Law Commission submits its final proposal, the States would be asked to send their comments since the proposed amendment falls under the Concurrent List of the Constitution. The Bezbaruah Committee was constituted by the Centre in February 2014 in the wake of a series of racial attacks on persons belonging to the northeast. Though the committee submitted its report in July 2014, the Home Ministry sent out letters to States for their opinion almost four years later, in February this year.