Hate Speech & Blasphemy

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    • There isn’t formal legislation against blasphemy. 
      • The closest equivalent to a blasphemy law is the section in IPC relating to Hate speech.

    More about blasphemy

    • Meaning:
      • It is an insult that shows contempt, disrespect or lack of reverence concerning a deity, an object considered sacred or something considered inviolable.
    • Legal Provisions relating to Blasphemy:
      • Sections 295 and 295A of the IPC: 
        • Involves imprisonment in the case, which involves destruction, damage to or defiling of a “place of worship”, or “any object held sacred”.
        • It is a cognizable offence, which means that the police are authorised to arrest accused persons without the need of a judicially sanctioned warrant. 
          • This law was added only in 1927.
        • It is often argued that Section 295A is not a section for blasphemy but a section against Hate Speech.
      • Other Acts of IPC: 
        • Sections 124A, 153A, 153B, 292, and 293 of IPC also related to blasphemy
        • These sections prohibit any words or representations that insult any individual’s or group’s religious beliefs, or that are meant to incite enmity against a particular religion.
      • Constitutional Rights:
        • The word secular in the preamble of the Constitution, makes it very clear that India is a secular country and is not biased towards any particular religion.
        • If the state abridged an Indian of his right to religion then he may move to the apex court under Article 32.

    Hate Speech

    • What is Hate Speech?
      • There is no international legal definition of hate speech, and the characterization of what is ‘hateful’ is controversial and disputed
      • The term hate speech is understood as any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factors.
      • The word ‘hate speech’ is a tricky term, merely criticising someone is not hate speech. 
    • Indian Constitution and hate speech:
    • Freedom of Speech and Expression: 
      • It is protected as a fundamental right in the Constitution of India under Article 19(1) (a) which states that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression.
    • Article 19(2): 
      • A reasonable restriction has been put forth by the Indian constitution where the word reasonable should strike a balance between the use and misuse of this freedom.
    • Other provisions regarding Hate Speech:
      • Section 153A IPC penalises ‘promotion of enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony’.  
      • Section 153B IPC penalises ‘imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration’.  
      • Section 295A IPC penalises ‘deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs’.  
      • Section 298 IPC penalises ‘uttering, words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person’.  
      • Section 505 IPC penalises publication or circulation of any statement, rumour or report causing public mischief and enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes.
      • Part VII of the Representation of People Act, 1951 classifies hate speech as an offence committed during elections into two categories: corrupt practices and electoral offences. The relevant provisions regarding hate speech in the RPA are Sections 8, 8A, 123(3), 123(3A) and 125. 
      • In the realm of the hate speech debate, the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) assumes significance as Item 1 (General Conduct) of the MCC prohibits parties and candidates from making any appeals to caste or communal feelings for securing votes.

    Issues

    • NCRB Data:
      • As per the data given by the National Crime Records Bureau(NCRB), there has been a huge increase in cases registered promoting hate speech and fostering animosity in society.
    • Bogus cases:
      • Bogus cases of 295(A) have been launched on certain web series like Tandav, which reportedly offended religious emotions.
      • According to the filed FIR, the series purportedly presents Hindu gods in a demeaning manner.
      • There have also been incidents where citizens performing stand-up comedy have been arrested only because they had religious references in their script.
    • Defining hate speech:
      • These cases show how regulations don’t draw a line between criticism and premeditated hate speech. 
      • Failing to articulate these distinctions diminishes fair use of the Section and makes it more difficult to define and penalise the actual crime of hate speech.

    Way ahead in dealing with the incidents of blasphemy

    • Blasphemy laws that prohibit religious criticism, in general, are incompatible with the principles of a democratic society
    • In a free and democratic society, there should be no screening of discourse and dissent
    • The only feasible solution that stands on the thin line of protection of faith and questioning hate speech should be keeping blasphemy in the statutes but de-criminalising it.

    Source: TH