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Defining Hate Speech

  • 26 May 2021
  • 5 min read

Why in News

As there is no clear definition of what constitutes a “Hate Speech” in the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws constituted by the Union Home Ministry to suggest reforms to the British-era IPC, is attempting for the first time to define such speech.

Key Points

  • Hate Speech:
    • In general, it refers to words whose intent is to create hatred towards a particular group, that group may be a community, religion or race.This speech may or may not have meaning, but is likely to result in violence.
    • 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.).
    • In the 267th Report of the Law Commission of India, hate speech is stated as an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief and the like.
    • In order to determine whether a particular instance of speech is a hate speech or not, the context of the speech plays an important role.
  • Major Reasons of Hate Speech:
    • Individuals believe in stereotypes that are ingrained in their minds and these stereotypes lead them to believe that a class or group of persons are inferior to them and as such cannot have the same rights as them.
    • The stubbornness to stick to a particular ideology without caring for the right to co-exist peacefully adds further fuel to the fire of hate speech.
  • Indian Penal Provisions Related to Hate Speech:
    • Under Indian Penal Code:
      • Sections 153A and 153B of the IPC: Punishes acts that cause enmity and hatred between two groups.
      • Section 295A of the IPC: Deals with punishing acts which deliberately or with malicious intention outrage the religious feelings of a class of persons.
      • Sections 505(1) and 505(2): Make the publication and circulation of content which may cause ill-will or hatred between different groups an offence.
    • Under Representation of People’s Act:
      • Section 8 of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951 (RPA): Prevents a person convicted of the illegal use of the freedom of speech from contesting an election.
      • Sections 123(3A) and 125 of the RPA: Bars the promotion of animosity on the grounds of race, religion, community, caste, or language in reference to elections and include it under corrupt electoral practices.
  • Suggestion for Changes in IPC:
    • Viswanathan Committee 2019:
      • It 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 of up to two years along with Rs. 5,000 fine.
    • Bezbaruah Committee 2014:
      • It 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.

Way Forward

  • For a country like India with a massive population of diverse backgrounds and culture, subjects like hate speech become a complex issue to deal with as it is difficult to differentiate between free and hate speech.
  • Several factors are to be considered while restraining speeches like the number of strong opinions, offensive to certain communities, the effect on the values of dignity, liberty, and equality. Certainly, there are laws for such atrocities but a major part of work is still left.
  • Therefore giving a proper definition to hate speech would be the first step to deal with the menace and other initiatives such as spreading awareness amongst the public is the need of the hour.


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