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Panel to define offences of speech, expression

Illustration: Satwik Gade  

A panel constituted by the Union Home Ministry to suggest reforms to the British-era Indian Penal Code (IPC) is likely to propose a separate Section on “offences relating to speech and expression.”

As there is no clear definition of what constitutes a “hate speech” in the IPC, the Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws is attempting for the first time to define such speech.

“Who will decide what constitutes a hate speech? Legally speaking, for criminal Sections to be invoked, any such speech has to lead to violence or disturbance of law and order. We will refrain from using the word ‘hate speech’ as it is a loaded term, merely criticising someone is not hate speech,” G.S. Bajpai, Chairperson of the Criminology Centre at National Law University (NLU), Delhi, one of the members of the committee, told The Hindu.

The committee is expected to submit its report soon.

Bureau’s definition

The Bureau of Police Research and Development recently published a manual for investigating agencies on cyber harassment cases that defined hate speech as a “language that denigrates, insults, threatens or targets an individual based on their identity and other traits (such as sexual orientation or disability or religion etc.).”

Earlier in 2018, the Home Ministry had written to the Law Commission to prepare a distinct law for online “hate speech” acting on a report by a committee headed by former Lok Sabha Secretary General T.K. Viswanathan who recommended stricter laws. The committee was formed in the wake of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, that provided punishment for sending offensive messages through communication services being scrapped by the Supreme Court in 2015.

In 2019, however, the Ministry decided to overhaul the IPC, framed in 1860 and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) after seeking suggestions from States, the Supreme Court, High Courts, the Bar Council of India, Bar Councils of States, universities and law institutes on comprehensive amendments to criminal laws.

The suggestions received by the Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws will be examined by the Ministry before the changes are adopted.

Comprehensive changes

“The committee is examining a gamut of subjects pertaining to reforms in the IPC. Instead of ad hoc changes, it was decided that all the pending issues such as those on hate speech as recommended by the Viswanathan committee can be examined and comprehensive changes are brought in,” said a Home Ministry official.

The Viswanathan committee proposed inserting Sections 153 C (b) and Section 505 A in the IPC for incitement to commit an offence on grounds of religion, race, caste or community, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, place of birth, residence, language, disability or tribe. It proposed punishment by up to two years along with ₹5,000 fine.

The Bezbaruah Committee constituted by the Centre in February 2014 in the wake of series of racial attacks on persons belonging to the northeast had in a report proposed amendment to Section 153 C IPC (promoting or attempting to promote acts prejudicial to human dignity), punishable by five years and fine or both and Section 509 A IPC (word, gesture or act intended to insult member of a particular race), punishable by three years or fine or both.


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Printable version | Jul 27, 2021 1:26:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/panel-to-define-offences-of-speech-expression/article34644940.ece

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