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Truths and Hate Speech: SC

  • 08 Dec 2020
  • 5 min read

Why in News

In the context of discussing the limits of free speech and what may tantamount to hate speech, the Supreme Court (SC) has recently held that “Historical truths must be depicted without in any way disclosing or encouraging hatred or enmity between different classes or communities.”

  • The FIRs were filed against a TV anchor for alleged remarks on the sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in a news show.

Key Points

  • On ‘True Facts’:
    • Elaborating on the point about truth or true facts being a defence in cases of free speech, the SC cited its ruling in K A Abbas versus Union of India case 1970, which was about censorship.
      • The order said that there is no bar in showing carnage or bloodshed which have historical value, and depiction of such scenes may be permissible, if handled delicately as a part of an artistic portrayal of confrontation.
    • The likelihood must be judged from a healthy and reasonable standard, thereby accepting the position that historical truth may be a relevant and important factor.
      • However, historical truth must be depicted without in any way disclosing or encouraging hatred or enmity between different classes or communities.
    • The court also referred to the ruling in Ebrahim Suleiman Sait versus M C Mohammed and Another case 1980.
      • The order held that speaking truth was not an answer to the charge of corrupt practice under Section 123 (3A) of the Representation of the People Act 1950.
      • What was relevant was whether the speech had promoted or had sought to promote feelings of enmity or hatred.
  • Free Speech and the Marginalised:
    • There may be a possibility of divergence between truth and popular belief, and the bench held that in many ways, free speech has empowered those who were marginalised and discriminated, and thus it would be wholly incorrect and a mistake to assume that free speech is an elite concept and indulgence.
  • Hate Speech:
    • The hate speech should have no redeeming purpose, which means that ‘the speech primarily carries no meaning other than hatred towards a particular group’.
      • This is necessarily subjective and requires examination of good faith and good motives on the part of the speaker.
    • Speaking on dignity in the context of hate speech, the court held that one must condemn and check any attempt at dissemination of discrimination on the basis of race, religion, caste, creed or regional basis.
    • The court pointed out that the object of criminalising hate speech is to protect the dignity and to ensure political and social equality between different identities and groups regardless of caste, creed, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, linguistic preference, etc.
      • Hate speech has not been defined in any law in India. However, legal provisions in certain legislations prohibit select forms of speech as an exception to freedom of speech.
  • Self-Regulation:
    • Everyone must act with the objective for promoting social harmony and tolerance by proscribing hateful and inappropriate behaviour, which can be achieved by self-restraint, institutional check and correction, as well as self-regulation or through the mechanism of statutory regulations, if applicable.
  • Political Speech:
    • The political speech relating to government policies requires greater protection for preservation and promotion of democracy.
      • The bench held that dissent and criticism of the elected government’s policy, when puissant, deceptive or even false would be ethically wrong, would not invite penal action.
      • Government should be left out from adjudicating what is true or false, good or bad, valid or invalid as these aspects should be left for open discussion in the public domain.
  • Intent and Purpose:
    • The court clarified that after these observations, persons of influence or even common people should not fear the threat of reprisal and prosecution, if they discuss and speak about controversial and sensitive topics relating to religion, caste, creed, etc as the question is primarily one of intent and purpose.

Source: IE

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