The state and society cannot ignore hate crime, for one day it may come knocking on their doors, the Supreme Court warned on Monday.
In a reference straight out of what may have been a line from Martin Niemöller’s quote “then they came for me”, a Bench led by Justice K.M. Joseph said, “If you ignore hate crime, it will come on to you, and then innocent lives will be lost.”
The court was hearing the case of a 62-year-old Muslim man who was attacked with a screwdriver by a group of men in a running car at Noida in 2021. They pierced him with the tool, pulled at his beard, abusing and robbing him and finally throwing him out of the car. The police registered a case of hate only in January 2023.
Justice Joseph said there is no space for a crime on the basis of religion in a secular country. It is the obligation of the state to protect a person, irrespective of religion or creed.
“But if you have a climate which fosters hate… when you do not discourage it, where you kind of encourage it… then it becomes a very serious thing,” Justice Joseph addressed the government, represented by Additional Solicitor General K.M. Nataraj.
Justice Joseph said the solution to the problem of hate crime can be found only if the state acknowledges that there is a problem in the first place.
“You have to frontally recognise there is a problem… I hate to use the word ‘minority’... But be it minority or majority, there are certain rights inherent in a human being… If somebody professes a particular religion, it is just a matter of accident. For most of us, we are born in a family, we follow the faith of that family,” Justice Joseph said.
Justice Joseph said every individual was free to perceive God in her own individual way.
“That is the greatness of our country. That is the difference between a theocratic state and secular country. We can be justly proud of our country,” Justice Joseph said.