HC declines PIL seeking action against ‘hate speeches’

‘Sufficient, effective laws are in place for aggrieved persons to take action against such instances’

May 13, 2020 08:51 pm | Updated 08:51 pm IST - Bengaluru

The Karnataka High Court on Wednesday declined to entertain a PIL petition seeking directions to the State and Central governments to take action against political leaders for allegedly giving “hate speech” targeting members of a minority community in connection with the spread of COVID-19, and the media houses for telecasting and reporting such statements.

A Division Bench comprising Justice B.V. Nagarathna and Justice M.G. Uma, while dismissing the petition, said there were sufficient and effective remedies available in various enactments that the petitioners and the aggrieved persons could set in motion in connection with the instances of incitements.

The PIL was filed by Campaign Against Hate Speech (CAHS), an unregistered organisation, A.R. Vasavi, a social anthropologist, and Swathi Sheshadri, a researcher, all based in Bengaluru.

The Bench noted that substantive remedies were available under the Indian Penal Code, Representation of Peoples Act, Information Technology Act, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Cable TV Networks (Regulations) Act, and other legislations.

“... it is also to be borne in mind that there is no legislation on hate speech. It is for Parliament to define ‘hate speech’. In the absence of legislation, it would not be proper for the High Court to make substantive analysis and issue direction on the claims of hate speeches,” the Bench observed.

The High Court cannot issue directions under Article 226 of the Constitution of India merely on the basis of claimed impact of instances of incitement on society in general or on certain sections, the Bench said. It said that the State and Union governments have power under Article 19(2) of the Constitution for breach of reasonable restriction on freedom of speech and expression.

CAHS contention

The petitioners had contended that the authorities of the State and Union governments had failed to consider various representations given by CAHS, pointing out instances of hate speech in the media, including social media platforms, and to initiate action against them.

The media coverage and statements of the political leaders had resulted in several instances where the minority community had been economically and socially boycotted, CAHS contended in the petition.

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