Supreme Court wants authorities to act tough on incitement to violence, hate speech

The top court orders Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh police and local administrations to keep a close eye on public events planned by Hindu Janajagruti Samiti on January 18 at Yavatmal and by BJP MLA Raja Singh at Raipur for seven days starting from January 19

January 17, 2024 01:07 pm | Updated 11:56 pm IST - New Delhi

A view of Supreme Court of India. File

A view of Supreme Court of India. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said authorities need to be “conscious that no incitement to violence and hate speech are permissible”.

The top court underscored this while ordering the Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh police and local administrations to keep a close eye on public events planned by the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti on January 18 at Yavatmal and by BJP MLA T. Raja Singh at Raipur for seven days starting from January 19.

A Bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta directed the District Magistrates (DMs) and Superintendents of Police (SPs) at the two places to look into the allegations of repeated instance of hate speech against the Samiti and Mr. Singh, who is organising the public events at Raipur in Chhattisgarh between January 19 and 25.

Explained | The need for a distinction between blasphemy and hate speech

The Bench was hearing an application filed by Shaheen Abdulla, represented by senior advocate Kapil Sibal and advocate Nizam Pasha, urging the apex court to direct both States to withdraw permissions granted for these events.

“We require the authorities to be conscious that no incitement to violence and hate speech are permissible... The DM and the SP, Yavatmal and Raipur, will take notice of the allegations made in the application. The DMs and SPs concerned will take necessary steps as may be required. If necessary and deemed appropriate, police/administration will install CCTV cameras having recording facility so as to ensure the identification of the perpetrators in the event of any violence/hate speech,” the court order said.

Mr. Sibal’s client alleged that the Samiti was “actively involved in organising events where speeches are delivered openly demonising Muslims and calling for their boycott”. The application said an event organised on January 3 at Solapur (Maharashtra) saw “hate speeches targeting Muslims delivered openly”. It said the “same organisation held several events on January 7, 2024 under the pretext of establishing a Hindu Rashtra”.

“They even publish books to spread so-called awareness about the manner in which Muslims engage in ‘love jihad’,” the application noted.

‘Repeat offender’

It alleged that Mr. Singh was a “repeat offender who has continued to deliver hate speeches… and is going to hold a series of rallies in Chhattisgarh from January 19 to January 25”.

In the hearing, Mr. Sibal said the apex court’s directions in the Tehseen Poonawala case had failed to arrest the spread of hate speech. Communal vitriol, he said, continues to be voiced with impunity. Police authorities, in many cases, were mute spectators. Mr. Sibal said the top court ought to intervene.

“This is happening again, again and again…” Mr. Sibal said with exasperation.

The Bench said authorities had acted against hate speeches in the past. The court’s orders had indeed made a difference on the ground.

“Why look at it negatively?” the court asked.

“We are not looking at it negatively… We are just worried about the future,” Mr. Sibal replied.

Justice Datta asked Mr. Sibal whether the organisation or the individual named in the application were impleaded.

“You want us to pass orders without hearing them? There are some fundamentals to follow in a hearing,” Justice Datta told Mr. Sibal.

The senior lawyer said there were “also fundamental rights which need protection” from hate speech spewed during public events.

“The police are there when such events happen… Why do they allow these events to happen?” Mr. Sibal asked the court.

In October 2022, the apex court had said it was “tragic what we have reduced religion to” in the 21st century and a “climate of hate prevails in the country” while directing police and authorities to suo motu register cases against hate speech offenders without waiting for someone to file formal complaints.

In 2018, the court had condemned hate crimes and held that it was the “sacrosanct duty” of the state to protect the lives of its citizens. The Tehseen Poonawala judgment had seen the top court issue a slew of guidelines for States, the police to prevent, control and deter mob violence and lynchings.

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