In an era before Christ, Socrates had said, “From the deepest desires often comes the deadliest hate.” The 2014 general election is an embodiment of Socrates’ insight, where the personal desires of a few have plunged the nation into a deadly hateful haze, the stench of which may last generations.
The results will be out on May 16 but the intolerance churned out by Machiavellian hate-speech-spewing wannabes will leave a far-reaching negative impact on the core value that binds India: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam — the world is one single family. The ‘deepest desire’ of the hate-mongers is simple: A kursi, for self-gain; their modus operandi: To churn such antagonism among the voters that come polling day they pick inflamed passions over nation building.
Black’s Law Dictionary defines Hate Speech as: ‘Speech that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, such as a particular race, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violence.’
We are familiar with the effects of hate speeches and the violence it unleashes. We have seen communities being broken, families fleeing, homes being burnt down, women being raped and children murdered. The recent spurt of communal violence spurned by hate speeches in Northern India is a testament to this.
Our Constitution gives citizens the right to free speech and expression, subject to reasonable restrictions. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) expressly prohibits any form of hate speech designed to promote hatred, enmity, disharmony or/and ill-will among Indians of different faiths, beliefs, languages, etc. The IPC provides for punitive action against perpetrators of hate speech crimes. There are various other statutory provisions to punish those making incendiary speeches.
The Election Commission (EC) imposes restraints on proven hate-mongers and FIRs are registered. Yet, hate-speakers are ruling the roost. They continue with their maniacal calls for revenge and counter-revenge. Some have tried to communalise the armed forces, while others have tried to cast aspersions on a whole community. One lot is terrorising a section of people who are opposed to their idea by threatening them that if they continue to oppose they will be forced to flee their land. In this election hate-mongers seem to be an emboldened lot who know how to sidestep the law.
So it must be asked: Are the punitive processes adopted by the EC against hate speeches toothless?
The Supreme Court, in ‘Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan vs UOI & Ors’ (WP (C) No 157 of 2013), stated that the root of the problem was not the absence of laws but a lack of their effective execution. The court further said that the executive and the civil society had to perform their role in enforcing the existing legal regime. The court referred the matter to the Law Commission of India to examine the issues and also consider, if it deemed proper, to define ‘hate speech’ and make recommendations to Parliament to strengthen the EC.
In short, if the country is serious about ending the hate-speeches-for-vote practice, then Parliament needs to supplement existing laws and bolster the EC to prosecute hate-rousers. No individual, party or group will dare to divide and rule India if the State executes the laws of the land. Hate-mongers will behave the minute the prospect of them being permanently debarred from contesting elections looms large over their heads. They will be further curbed when their respective political parties face de-recognition if any member is found guilty of hate-speech. They will be completely silenced if the people rise in unison to reject the proponents of this hate-speech-for-vote practice.
Mustafa Arif is an advocate. The views expressed by the author are personal.