Hate speech in India

Justice Markandey Katju –

Justice Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.

The Indian Supreme Court has called on the Union and state governments to take suo motu action against hate speeches without waiting for a complaint to be filed and has warned that contempt proceedings will be taken if this is not done.

Evidently, this order was passed because of many hate speeches against the minority community in India e.g. in the ‘dharma sansad’ in Haridwar.

But will this order have any effect? I have my doubt. Indian politics runs mainly on the basis of caste and religious vote banks, and this requires keeping the communal and caste pot boiling, and society polarized.

Moreover, though some statements there can be no doubt that they are ‘hate speech’ about others there can be a different opinion. Statements that some people may regard as hate speech, may not be so regarded by others, who may think it a legitimate exercise of their freedom of speech e.g. Salman Rushdie’s book Satanic Verses, or Taslima Nasreen’s works, or the demand to ban the burqa or abolish sharia.

And what about the way some TV anchors in India conduct their shows, often with a blatantly communal slant? Is that, or is it not, hate speech?

The order passed by the Supreme Court was only an interim order in a proceeding that is still pending. I have doubts that it will have any effect.

This is because India is a country perpetually in an election mode. It has 28 states, and 8 Union territories and elections somewhere or the other are either taking place, or preparations or campaigning for them are taking place, almost all the time, throughout the year.

As mentioned above, Indian politics runs largely on caste and religious vote banks. So the order banning hate speech may sound fine, but in practice, only lip service will be paid to it, or it will be ignored since polarization benefits some parties and/or some people.

I respectfully submit that the bench of the Supreme Court hearing the case should have confined themselves to the particular instances of alleged hate speech, and proposed some legal action regarding them, instead of issuing such a futile general order which will remain unimplemented


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