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Hate Speech and Blasphemy

  • 02 Aug 2022
  • 5 min read

For Prelims: Law Commission of India, Hate Speech, Indian Penal Code (IPC), National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)

For Mains: Blasphemy, Hate Speech, and their Regulation

Why in News?

Recently, there has been a rise in cases related to Hate Speech, Blasphemy in India.

What is Hate Speech?

  • About:
    • According to 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.
      • 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.
  • Related Data:
    • According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there has been a huge increase in cases registered to promote hate speech and foster animosity in society.
      • As there were only 323 cases registered in 2014, it had increased to 1,804 cases in 2020.

What are the Regulations Related to Blasphemy?

  • About: 
    • Section 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), punishes any speech, writings, or signs that “with premeditated and malicious intent” insult citizens’ religion or religious beliefs with a fine and imprisonment for up to three years.
  • SC Interpretation:
    • Ramji Lal Modi case (1957):
      • The legality of Section 295(A) was affirmed by a five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in this case.
        • Supreme court reasoned that while Article 19(2) allows reasonable limits on freedom of speech and expression for the sake of public order.
          • The punishment under Section 295(A) deals with aggravated form of blasphemy which is committed with the malicious aim of offending the religious sensibilities of any class.
    • Superintendent, Central Prison, Fatehgarh Vs Ram Manohar Lohia case (1960):
      • It stated that the link between the speech spoken and any public disorder caused as a result of it should have a close relationship for retrieving Section 295(A) of IPC.
      • Further in 2011, it concluded that only speech that amounts to "incitement to impending unlawful action" can be punished. 
        • That is, the state must meet a very high bar before using public disturbance as a justification for suppressing expression.

Why there is a Need for Distinction between Blasphemy and Hate Speech Laws?

  • Too wide Interpretation:
    • Section 295(A) is considerably too wide and it cannot be stated that deliberate disrespect to religion or religious sensibilities is necessarily tantamount to incitement.
  • Section 295(A) contains hate speech statutes:
    • The Supreme Court has said on several occasions that perhaps the goal of hate speech statutes in Section 295(A) is to prevent prejudice and ensure equality.
  • Laws Lack Clarity:
    • Hate speech laws are predicated on the critical distinction between criticizing or ridiculing religion and encouraging prejudice or aggression towards individuals or a community because of their faith.
      • Unfortunately, there is a huge disparity between this interpretation and the actual wording due to which the law is still being exploited at all levels of administration.

Way Forward

  • Blasphemy, which generally prohibits criticism of religion, is incompatible with the principles of democratic societies. 
    • In a free and democratic society, there should be no scrutiny of discourse or objections. 
    • Following the subtle line between the protection of faith and hate speech, the only viable solution is to keep blasphemy in law and make it non-criminal.

Source: TH

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