Law Commission asks govt. to fortify democracy from hate speech

Hate speech has the potential to provoke individuals and society to commit acts of terrorism, genocides and ethnic cleansing. It is an “incitement to hatred” against a particular group of persons marginalised by their religious belief, sexual orientation, gender, etc.

The Law Commission of India laid out bare the danger of hate speech to the Central government in its 267th Report released on Friday.

The Commission headed by former Supreme Court judge, Justice Balbir Singh Chauhan, called for action from the government and Parliament.

The top law advisory body to the government urged the expansion of the penal law. It drafted a new law — The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2017 — inserting new Sections to fortify democracy against hate speeches.

“Hate speech is any word written or spoken, signs, visible representations within the hearing or sight of a person with the intention to cause fear or alarm, or incitement to violence,” the report defined.

The Commission has proposed Section 153C, which penalises incitement to hatred and Section 505A, which for the first time makes ‘causing fear, alarm, or provocation of violence in certain cases’ a specific criminal offence. Section 153C punishes a guilty person with two years’ imprisonment or ₹5,000 in fine or both. Section 505A provides a punishment of one year imprisonment or ₹5,000 in fine or both.

In its report, the Law Commission cautioned the government that hate speech is “considered outside the realm of protective discourse.”

Devastating effects

“Indisputably, offensive speech has real and devastating effects on people’s lives and risks their health and safety. It is harmful and divisive for communities and hampers social progress. If left unchecked, hate speech can severely affect right to life of every individual,” the Commission warned.

It said even a speech that does not incite violence has the potential of marginalising a section of the society, thus contradicting popular legal and judicial concepts about the ambit of hate speech.

“Incitement to violence cannot be the sole test for determining whether a speech amounts to hate speech or not. Even speech that does not incite violence has the potential of marginalising a certain section of the society or individual,” the report said.

It pointed out that in the age of technology, the anonymity of Internet allows a miscreant to easily spread false and offensive ideas.

Incitement to discrimination

“These ideas need not always incite violence but they might perpetuate the discriminatory attitudes prevalent in the society. Thus, incitement to discrimination is also a significant factor that contributes to the identification of hate speech,” it said.

The Supreme Court in 2014 had referred to the Law Commission for means to arm the Election Commission to crack down on hate speech.

The Supreme Court’s reference to the Law Commission is on whether it was “proper to define hate speech and make recommendations to Parliament to strengthen the Election Commission to curb the menace of hate speeches irrespective of, whenever made.”

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Printable version | May 13, 2021 3:47:39 PM |

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