Tackling Hate Speech

Synopsis: There are no laws on hate speech as such, so India needs a political and pedagogical solution to control the menace.


Recently, a Bishop from Kerala in his speech coined the term Narcotic Jihad and criticised few members of the Muslim religion. But the speech aimed at a particular religion has a divisive tone.

What does Hate Speech signify?

Though the precise definition would be difficult, but a lot can be inferred from various rulings of the courts around the world and also from the views of the experts.

In Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942):  The U.S. Supreme Court held that their Constitution does not protect “insulting or ‘fighting’ words — those which may incite an immediate breach of the peace.”

Lord Bhikhu Parekh, a British academic, said that hate speech views members of the target group as an enemy within. It creates hostility and breeds mistrust between individuals and groups.

In Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan v. Union of India (2014) case: The Supreme Court quoted from the Canadian Supreme Court’s decision in Saskatchewan v. Whatcott (2013). It held that “hate speech puts a serious barrier to the full participation of minority in our democracy.”

What are the challenges associated with hate speech in India?

This idea of hate speech resonates well in India’s political context. Being a minority in a Hindu majoritarian nation, the other religions at times feel defenceless when hatred is directed against them. This leads to a climate of fear amongst them. It has also led to violence against them based on their identity. And even genuine concerns like the social and economic backwardness of the minority community are ignored.

How India is tackling hate speech?

There are legal protections against hate speech in India. Section 153-A of IPC prohibits speech promoting enmity between groups based on religion, race, place of birth etc.

However, the law seems to suffer from misuse and disuse. While remarks against the minority are ignored, even vague references against the majority trigger the legal action and state machinery.

What should be the way ahead?

Given the challenges, a precise and accurate definition of law for hate speech is difficult. So a well-negotiated political and social solution is the best way forward.

Source: This post is based on “Tackling Hate Speech” published in The Hindu on 21st August 2021.

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