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Action must follow on hate speeches: Supreme Court

ByAbraham Thomas
Nov 29, 2023 07:25 PM IST

Earlier, the Court had directed police chiefs of all states and Union Territories to file suo motu cases against hate speeches made by people from any religion.

Action must be taken against any and all kinds of hate speech, said the Supreme Court on Wednesday, as it agreed to hear in February a clutch of petitions seeking to put in place a mechanism to curb hate speeches.

Supreme Court of India (Representative Photo)
Supreme Court of India (Representative Photo)

Dealing with applications filed by individuals and groups citing several instances of hate speeches, a bench headed by justice Sanjiv Khanna said, “We cannot have a pan-India monitoring of the problem of hate speeches. In a country as big as India, there will be problems. But the question to be asked is whether we have an administrative mechanism to deal with it.”

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Posting the case for hearing in February next year, the bench, also comprising justice SVN Bhatti said, “Society must know if a law is violated, there will be an action that follows. We cannot have these proceedings on a pan-India basis or else every day, applications will keep coming.”

In 2018, the Supreme Court in the Tehseen Poonawala case had laid out elaborate directions to states and Union Territories directing them to appoint a nodal officer responsible for preventing hate crimes and even registering offences.

Also Read | Treat hate speeches against any religion alike: Supreme Court

This judgment was passed in the context of increasing instances of mob lynching and hate crimes by cow vigilante groups. The Court ordered every district in the country to have a nodal officer not below the rank of superintendent of police (SP) to take preventive steps against mob lynching and hate crimes.

Many contempt petitions have been filed since then which formed part of the bunch of petitions heard by the Court. In these petitions, contempt action was sought against states that failed to act against hate speeches and hate crimes in terms of the 2018 order.

Earlier in April, emphasising the importance of preserving the secular character of the country, the Court had directed police chiefs of all states and Union Territories to file suo motu (on their own) cases against hate speeches made by people from any religion and warned of contempt action if its direction is not complied with.

A similar direction passed in October 2022 for the states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Delhi will now be extended to the entire country.

Additional solicitor general (ASG) KM Nataraj informed the Court that on October 11, the Union ministry of home affairs convened a meeting of chief secretaries of all states/UTs to ascertain compliance with the 2018 Court’s judgment. He said that 28 states and UTs have a nodal officer in place, while the states of Gujarat, Kerala, Nagaland and Tamil Nadu have not responded on this aspect.

The bench issued notices to the four states seeking their responses within four weeks. Lawyers appearing in certain applications raising individual instances of hate crimes sought urgent orders in their matter to ensure hate speeches are not repeated.

Advocate Nizam Pasha who appeared for an applicant pointed out that persons indulging in hate speeches have again been permitted to hold similar events by the state administrations.

Another applicant represented by advocate Vishnu Shankar Jain highlighted another set of cases in which some Muslim men were engaging in hate speech and no action was taken by the police.

“If we entertain contempt petitions like this, we will be flooded with cases,” the bench observed, adding that individual cases cannot be gone into. “If we start entertaining petitions directly under Article 32 of the Constitution (Supreme Court’s power to enforce fundamental rights), we must do it across the board. We cannot be saying in one case that we will entertain, while in another case, we won’t do,” the bench observed.

Advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay who has filed a petition in these proceedings seeking a separate penal provision on hate crimes under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), said, “Cases are not being registered by police as there is no definition of hate speech under IPC.” He requested the Court to consider referring the matter to the Law Commission.

“Hate speech has been defined by this Court in several decisions. The question is of implementation as to which cases it is to be applied and which cases not to apply,” the bench noted.

The Court had in January this year sought to sensitise Centre and states on taking hate speech offences seriously and said that such speeches had the potential of becoming a “Frankenstein” that could gobble up people.

The Court sought to strengthen the mechanism under the 2018 judgment and had in the past passed numerous orders requiring nodal officers to maintain case diaries of hate speeches, installing CCTVs at places where the police apprehended trouble and sensitising police about reporting hate speeches to the nodal officer.

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