Hate Speech During Elections

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    • Recently, the Election Commission told the Supreme Court that it faces difficulties in dealing with the issue of “hate speech” during elections.

    More about the news

    • Election Commission’s statement:
      • Hate speech has not been defined under any existing law in India.
      • In the absence of any specific law governing ‘hate speech’ and ‘rumour mongering’ during elections, the Election Commission of India employs various provisions of the IPC and the RP Act-1951 to ensure that members of the political parties or even other persons do not make statements to the effect of creating disharmony between different sections of society.
    • Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan vs Union of India Case:
      • The EC pointed out that the issue of “hate speech” during elections was dealt with by the SC in the 2014 case, ‘Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan vs Union of India’.
      • In the judgement, SC had then observed that the implementation of existing laws would solve the problem to a great extent.

    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.
    • 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.
    • Challenges
      • Difficult to Interpret: 
        • The word ‘hate speech’ is a tricky term, merely criticising someone is not hate speech. 
      • Curtailing Dissent: 
        • The dissent and criticism of the elected government’s policy, when deceptive or even false, could be ethically wrong, but it should not necessarily invite penal action.
      • Defining intent: 
        • If someone discusses and speaks about controversial and sensitive topics relating to religion, caste, creed, etc. The question is primarily one of intent and purpose which is hard to define. 

    Recent Attempts to Define Hate Speech in India

    • In the 267th Report of the Law Commission of India, hate speech is stated as an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief and the like.
    • The Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) recently published a manual for investigating agencies on cyber harassment cases that defined hate speech as a “language that denigrates, insults, threatens or targets an individual based on their identity and other traits (such as sexual orientation or disability or religion etc.).
    • In 2019, the Ministry decided to overhaul the IPC, framed in 1860 and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) after seeking suggestions from States, the Supreme Court, High Courts, the Bar Council of India, Bar Councils of States, universities and law institutes on comprehensive amendments to criminal laws. 

    Way ahead

    • The hate speech is often rooted in, and generates intolerance and hatred and, in certain contexts, can be demeaning and divisive. 
    • It is a menace to democratic values, social stability and peace. As a matter of principle, the government must confront hate speech at every turn. 
    • The problem of hate speech has been approached outside of the current legal system.
    • The government should also bring comprehensive amendments to criminal laws to prevent hate speech and expression especially during elections.

    Source: TH