Watch | What is ‘hate speech’?

A video explainer on hate speech and how it is it treated in Indian law.

January 15, 2022 12:15 pm | Updated 07:16 pm IST

A religious conclave held between December 17 and 19, 2021, in Haridwar, witnessed inflammatory and provocative speeches by proponents of Hindutva, many of them leaders of religious organisations.

Reports say many of the speakers called for organised violence against Muslims and hinted at a Myanmar-type ‘cleansing campaign’.

Also read: Striking fear | On Haridwar hate speech and legal action

There was a threat that if the government resisted the formation of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, there will be an ‘1857-like’ revolt against the state.

Political parties and concerned citizens have termed these as ‘hate speech’.

They have demanded legal action against those involved in the propagation of hate and violence.

What is ‘hate speech’?

There is no specific legal definition of ‘hate speech’.

Provisions in law criminalise speeches, writings, actions, signs and representations that instigate violence and spread disharmony between communities and groups.

These are understood to refer to ‘hate speech’.

The Law Commission of India, in its 267th Report, says, "hate speech generally is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief and the like... Thus, 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."

Also read: A quest for social consensus against hate speech

In general, hate speech is considered a limitation on free speech that seeks to prevent or bar speech that exposes a person or a group or section of society to hate, violence, ridicule or indignity.

How is it treated in Indian law?

Sections 153A and 505 of the Indian Penal Code are generally taken to be the main penal provisions, that seek to punish ‘hate speech’, and which deal with inflammatory speeches and expressions.

Under Section 153A:

  • 'promotion of enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony’, is an offence punishable with three years’ imprisonment.
  • It attracts a five-year term if committed in a place of worship, or an assembly engaged in religious worship or religious ceremonies.

Section 505 of IPC makes it an offence to make “statements conducing to public mischief”.

The statement, publication, report or rumour that is penalised under Section 505(1) should be one:

  • that promotes mutiny by the armed forces,
  • or causes such fear or alarm that people are induced to commit an offence against the state or public tranquillity;
  • or is intended to incite or incites any class or community to commit an offence against another class or community.

This attracts a jail term of up to three years.

Under 505(2), it is an offence to make statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes.

Under subsection (3), the same offence will attract up to a five-year jail term if it takes place in a place of worship, or in any assembly engaged in religious worship or religious ceremonies.

What has the Law Commission proposed?

The Law Commission has proposed that separate offences be added to the IPC to criminalise hate speech quite specifically, instead of being subsumed in the existing sections concerning inflammatory acts and speeches.

Reporting: K. Venkataramanan

Voiceover & Production: K Rajashree Das

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