The Narendra Modi-led government has accused senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy of promoting enmity and hatred between Hindus and Muslims in his book ‘Terrorism in India’, saying it contained “hate speech” against a community.
The Centre sought the dismissal of Swamy’s plea challenging the constitutional validity of penal provisions on speeches and writings that could cause enmity and hatred among communities.
Responding to Swamy’s petition challenging the constitutional validity of section 153A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that criminalises hate speech, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) told the Supreme Court that the provision was needed to deal with offences related to hate speech.
“There may be disharmony between various classes, affecting the peace and order of the society… Unity of the country has to be preserved at all costs. Divisive forces cannot be allowed to prosper,” the MHA said in its affidavit.
The government’s response comes at a time when a large number of intellectuals, writers and scientists are up in arms against the NDA government, accusing it of promoting intolerance and creating an environment where minorities don’t feel safe.
The MHA said if the provision is not retained in the law books, there may be riots or commission of offences. “There may be disharmony and ill will between various classes of the citizens of India,” it said.
In his PIL, Swamy has also asked the top court to restrain courts from proceeding with the hate speech cases filed against him subsequent to writing the book in 2007.
According to the government, Swamy has indulged in hate speech through the book. “… it’s theme, it’s language, it’s innuendoes, the similes it employs and the moral of its story, if any – in order to ascertain whether the offending passages read in the context of the book as a whole fall within the mischief of section 153 A. The book to be considered in all its aspects as it contains matter which promotes feelings of enmity and hatred between Hindus and Muslims in India. Therefore the petitioner has violated sections of IPC,” stated the government affidavit.
The IPC section cannot be declared ultra vires because it is in conformity with the Constitution, which allows reasonable restriction of freedom of speech and expression. There was nothing unambiguous about the provision, the government said, denying Swamy’s argument that the section was vague. “… it’s (section 153A) clear and neither too widely worded and intends to punish a person who either intends to promote or promotes class hatred or class enmity,” the affidavit stated.
“Our country is inhabited by persons belonging to different religion and castes and classes. Our constitution is based on the principle that persons of all religions, castes and creed must live in harmony and that in the long run prosperity and salvation are in union and not in division,” the MHA said, urging the SC to interpret in accordance with the Constitution.