Supreme Court Cracks Whip on Hate Speech, Buck Stops With Government8 min read
Published on: 17 January 2023 at 09:00 IST
At the very outset, it must be stated before stating anything else that any speech which spreads hatred or breeds animosity among the different sections of the society or different religions or different castes etc must be met with zero tolerance and the punishment must be such that no one dares to again deliver hate speech.
Why should those who deliver hate speech be given a long rope time and again just because he/she is a very prominent leader whether political or religious or of any other affiliation? It is because of such long rope that is given to them so very often most liberally that we witness every now and then every second or third leader delivering hate speech and yet escaping with impunity with no punishment being meted out to them!
It must be asked: Why can’t all such leaders who deliver hate speech irrespective of the political party they are attached to must be not just permanently banned from politics but also must be jailed at least for 20 years so that no one again dares to deliver any hate speech? If still some dare then they definitely must be permanently exiled from politics and punished as mentioned hereinabove!
It merits no reiteration that even Apex Court has taken a very serious note on hate speech several times.
In the wake of growing incidents of hate speech, the Apex Court on January 13, 2023 said that the “buck ultimately stops with the government” to clamp down on hate speech and hate crimes, as they are offences committed on the society. Hon’ble Mr Justice KM Joseph minced just no words to say unambiguously that hate speech is a complete menace, nothing short of it.
As it turned out, the Apex Court also came down heavily on the TV channels saying that they are driven by agenda. It must be mentioned here that the top court was hearing a batch of pleas seeking steps to be taken against hate speech incidents. Why should hate speeches not be dealt with an iron hand?
It must be stated right at the outset before stating anything else that any kind of speech which arouses, promotes or excites any kind of disaffection, disharmony or hatred among the different sections or different religions or different castes etc of the society can be termed as hate speech which must be condemned most strongly.
Section 153-A of the Indian Penal Code prohibits citizens from creating disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different groups of people. There definitely cannot be ever any justification of any kind for hate speech delivered by anyone on any ground whatsoever. But mere condemnation is just not enough.
Needless to say, those who deliver such hate speech should not be allowed to go scot free under any circumstances! They must be definitely punished most strictly like life ban from contesting elections, a heavy fine and a fixed jail term of about 20 years must be imposed mandatorily to send the right message across the political spectrum that under no circumstances will any leader be allowed to get away after delivering hate speech of any kind! Punishment under Section 153-A which may extend to three years or with fine or with both is very less which must be amended to meet the present circumstances!
It must be asked: Why is it that the political leaders especially who are MPs or MLAs are allowed to easily escape even after delivering the worst hate speeches? Why political leaders even after killing many people or indulging in other crimes like Phoolan Devi can still later be rehabilitated in politics most easily? Why is it that politicians can abuse anyone or slap anyone and yet not be barred from contesting elections?
It must also be asked: Why is it that even after committing thousands of dacoities or robberies or murders, one is still eligible to not just contest elections from jail but also become Ministers or Chief Ministers or Cabinet Ministers till finally convicted?
Why no permanent ban on politicians who don’t conduct themselves with grace just like we see in other government services where even if some one lodges false FIR we see that candidate is barred from getting any permanent job?
Why politicians who deliver hate speeches are not just permanently banned from politics but also jailed for at least 20 years so that no leader can ever dare to deliver hate speeches?
The million dollar question that arises here is: Why are we so happily making the worst mockery of trampling of Article 14 of Constitution by always granting long rope on one pretext or the other to politicians and politicians alone to deliver the worst kind of hate speeches and yet fearlessly contest elections even from jail terming all cases as “politically motivated”?
Why MPs and MLAs are most easily and most conveniently allowed to get away scot free even after misbehaving with Speaker of Chairman of the House who sometimes happen to be the Vice President himself?
Why they are allowed to misbehave with the Chairman or Speaker and yet get away so easily as we are seeing since last 75 years?
No doubt, we have seen earlier also that Apex Court like in last year a Supreme Court Bench comprising of Hon’ble Justice Mr KM Joseph and Hon’ble Mr Justice Hrishikesh Roy in interim directions on October 21, 2022 had directed the police chiefs of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand to take “immediate” suo motu action against any hate speech by lodging criminal cases without waiting for formal complaints and had taken a very grim view of the increasing incidents of hate speeches in our country.
Hon’ble Mr Justice KM Joseph just very recently also has minced just no words to say that hate speech is a complete menace, nothing short of it.
The Apex Court also came down heavily on the TV channels saying without any inhibition whatsoever that they are driven by agenda. It merits no reiteration that the owners of such TV channels and those who air hate speeches must be certainly dealt with an iron hand as they deserve no mercy of any kind whatsoever!
To put things in perspective, it must be mentioned here that in the wake of growing incidents of hate speech, the Supreme Court on January 13, 2023 said the “buck ultimately stops with the government” to clamp down on hate speech and hate crimes, as they are offences committed on the society.
It must be mentioned here that the top court was hearing a batch of pleas seeking steps to be taken against hate speech incidents. It must be mentioned here that a Bench of Apex Court comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice KM Joseph and Hon’ble Ms Justice BV Nagarathna was hearing the pleas.
It cannot be glossed over that Hon’ble Mr Justice KM Joseph had minced just no words absolutely to say emphatically, elegantly and eloquently that, “We would not have liked the government to come in at all, but in certain areas where religious freedom, harmony and orderly progress is gravely affected, it has to intervene… Today what are we fighting about? We have more important things to achieve as a nation – people are starving without jobs.”
It must be mentioned here that the remarks from the Bench of Apex Court came after Uttar Pradesh informed the court that it had registered 580 cases of hate speech in 2021 – 2022. It also must be laid bare that of these, 160 were suo motu registered by the police. Uttarakhand said that it had registered 118 cases.
It would be of immense significance to note here that the Apex Court also came down heavily on TV channels and was unequivocal in holding the most rational view as is quite ostensible also that TV channels are driven by agenda and compete with each other to sensationalise the news. This is what is most worrying matter also which we just cannot brush aside lightly. Centre must also act promptly on this as the Apex Court is expecting it to do on this score!
As we see, the Apex Court Bench asked the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) and the Central Government about how it can control such broadcasts.
While pulling back no punches, Hon’ble Mr Justice KM Joseph asked that, “Everything is driven by TRP. Channels are basically competing with each other. They sensationalise it. How do you control this? You create divisions in society because of the visual element.
The visual medium can influence you much more than a newspaper… Our audience, are they mature enough to see this content?” Absolutely right!
It thus merits no reiteration of any kind that what Hon’ble Mr Justice KM Joseph is saying is hundred percent right. Centre must certainly not lag behind to debate, discuss and deliberate on it most exhaustively. No denying it!
Of course, it is undeniable that we need to pay attention as it is actually worth paying full attention also that the Bench of Apex Court then most sagaciously, commendably, courageously and convincingly said that offending anchors should be “taken off air” and hefty fines should be imposed on channels which are violating the program code. Hon’ble Mr Justice KM Joseph asked the counsel representing the News Broadcasters and Digital Association most directly that, “If the anchors of TV programs are themselves part of the problem then what can be done? How many times have you taken off anchors?” This merits a food for thought also most seriously!
No doubt, there can certainly be no two views that what Hon’ble Mr Justice KM Joseph has said must be definitely implemented most unbiasedly and most promptly so that those delivering hate speeches with divisive agendas are made to cool their heels in jail and not instead find themselves taking oath as MPs or MLAs or Ministers as they are just not worth it which can be said without even an iota of doubt. It merits mentioning here that the Central Government has made it clear in saying that it is planning to introduce comprehensive amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to tackle hate speech. The earlier it does, the better it shall be in our paramount national interests!
We ought to also note here that none other than the Additional Solicitor General (ASG) KM Nataraj himself while appearing for Centre informed the Apex Court stating that, “We are contemplating a separate amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code.
That is the stand of the Union of India.” While it is true that the media is the fourth pillar of democracy and its freedom is “very important for a strong and vibrant democracy” but that freedom definitely cannot be unfettered under any circumstances and no one can be allowed to glorify hate speeches under any circumstances which is a frontal attack on our Constitution as well as our democratic way of governance.
There certainly has to be zero tolerance for hate speech and it has to be nipped in the bud before it engulfs more and more people which if not checked, combated and crushed well in time will be the biggest threat to the very existence of our nation which we cannot afford to take lightly only at the risk of our own peril!
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate