The Supreme Court on April 28 directed States to suo motu register FIRs on hate speech incidents and proceed against offenders without waiting for someone to lodge a complaint.
A Bench of Justices K.M. Joseph and B.V. Nagarathna said the court’s order would apply to all hate-speech makers irrespective of their religion. The secular nature of the nation has to be protected, the court stressed.
The court even highlighted the specific penal provisions under which hate speech offenders ought to be booked. They are Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on the ground of religion), 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration), 505 (public mischief), 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
“We direct that States shall ensure that as and when hate speech happens, it attracts offences under 153A, 153B, 295A and 505 of the IPC. Suo motu action shall be taken to register cases even if no complaint is forthcoming. Offender should be proceeded against under the law,” the Supreme Court ordered, issuing notice to the States.
The Bench directed Director Generals of Police in the States to inform their subordinates about the court order so that “appropriate action in accordance with the law will be taken at the earliest”.
The court said any hesitation on the part of police officers to abide by the order would be viewed as contempt.
Advocate Kaleeswaram Raj, appearing for senior journalist Sashi Kumar, however pointed out that free speech should not be snuffed out in the guise of tackling hate speech. “The possibility to curtail even free speech cannot be lost sight of. New draconian laws or preventive measures could create more problems than they resolve... We have enough jurisprudence on hate speech. What is required is rule of law on the ground,” he argued.
In October, the court had passed a similar order for the immediate registration of FIRs against people who trigger communal violence with hate speeches.
The court, at that point, had found it “tragic what we have reduced religion to” in the 21st century and rued the “climate of hate” in the country.
The October order was on the basis of petitions which highlighted occurrence of hate speeches targetting the Muslim community, including in events organised in Delhi and Haridwar in 2021.
“The Constitution envisages Bharat as a secular nation and fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and unity and integrity of the country is one of the guiding principles enshrined in the Preamble,” the court had said in October.