Responsible speech is not just something that does not contain abuse, defamation or incitement to violence. It is increasingly seen as an expression that tends not to discriminate against or incite hatred towards groups based on race, gender, caste, religious belief, sexual orientation, nationality or immigration status. A committee appointed by the Union Home Ministry, tasked with recommending changes in criminal law, is now seeking to formulate new provisions that will make hate speech a separate offence. The term ‘hate speech’ may not be used, but the panel is examining recommendations made by the Law Commission and the Expert Committee headed by T.K. Viswanathan, on adding Sections 153C and 505A to the IPC.
- Proposals of the Committee
- Background to the Committee
- Hate Speech
- Importance of the Proposals of the Committee
- Criticism of the Proposals
Proposals of the Committee:
- In 2017, a committee headed by former Lok Sabha Secretary General T.K. Viswanathan submitted a report recommending stricter laws to curb online hate speech
Suggestions made by the committee:
- Section 78 of the IT Act needs to be substituted and Section 153 and 505A of the Indian Penal Code need to be amended.
- It proposed inserting Sections 153 C (b) and Section 505 A in the IPC for incitement to commit an offence on grounds of religion, race, caste or community, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, place of birth, residence, language, disability or tribe.
- Section 78 primarily dealt with capacity building and needs to be relooked at with a view to sensitise law enforcement agency officers. Under it, a police officer of the rank of inspector or above was empowered to investigate offences.
- Each state should have a State Cyber Crime Coordinator which should be an officer not below the rank of Inspector General of Police.
- Each district should have a District Cyber Crime Cell headed by an officer not below the rank of sub-inspector.
- It proposed punishment of up to two years along with ₹5,000 fine.
Background to the Committee
- The committee was formed after the Supreme Court struck down Section 66 A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 in Shreya Singhal vs. Union of India in 2015.
- Section 66 A of IT Act was added to criminalize sending of offensive messages through a computer or other communication devices.
- Considering the growing menace of hate speech and abuse on the internet in the absence of the provision, the committee was reportedly set up to propose new laws and amendments in existing laws
- In its report, which relied on the 267th report of the Law Commission of India and international legislation
- In 2019, however, 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.
What is it?
The definition of what constitutes hate speech is not clear. Several definitions exist on the subject.
The Bureau of Police Research and Development 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.).”
It is increasingly seen as an expression that tends not to discriminate against or incite hatred towards groups based on race, gender, caste, religious belief, sexual orientation, nationality or immigration status.
The world has moved away from a free speech doctrine based on a formal equality among different viewpoints to one that discourages the targeting of any vulnerable section.
The term ‘hate speech’ and calls for laws that specifically seek to punish it arise from this inclusive understanding of the basis on which speech is restricted in modern democracies.
As there is no clear definition of what constitutes a “hate speech” in the IPC, the Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws is attempting for the first time to define such speech.
The 5-member Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws headed by Vice Chancellor of National Law University (NLU), Delhi (Currently – Srikrishna Deva Rao).
This panel constituted by the Union Home Ministry in 2020 to suggest reforms to the British-era Indian Penal Code (IPC) is likely to propose a separate Section on “offences relating to speech and expression.”
Instead of ad hoc changes, it was decided that all the pending issues such as those on hate speech as recommended by the Viswanathan committee can be examined and comprehensive changes are brought in
- Article 19(2) of the Constitution gives all citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression but subject to “reasonable restrictions” for preserving inter alia “public order, decency or morality”.
- Sections 153A and 153B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) punish acts that cause enmity and hatred between two groups.
- Section 295A of the IPC deal with punishing acts which deliberately or with malicious intention outrage the religious feelings of a class of persons.
- Sections 505(1) and 505(2) make the publication and circulation of content which may cause ill-will or hatred between different groups an offence.
- Section 8 of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951 (RPA) prevents a person convicted of the illegal use of the freedom of speech from contesting an election.
- Sections 123(3A) and 125 of the RPA bar the promotion of animosity on the grounds of race, religion, community, caste, or language in reference to elections and includes it under corrupt electoral practices.
Importance of Provisions and Problems
- There is no clear definition of what constitutes a “hate speech” in the IPC
- Ever since Section 66A of the Information Technology Act was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015, some governments see a lacuna in the law concerning offensive messaging over the Internet.
- With Section 66A of the IT Act out of the picture, there is a pressing need for a piece of legislation that deals explicitly with online hate speech.
- Currently, offences of this nature are being registered under various sections of both the IT Act and the sedition law.
Hate speech threatens two key doctrines of democracy:
- The guarantee of equal dignity to all
- The public good of inclusiveness.
Importance of the Proposals of the Committee
- Instead of ad hoc changes, it was decided that all the pending issues such as those on hate speech as recommended by the Viswanathan committee can be examined and comprehensive changes are brought in.
- It would clarify what is sought to be punished is incitement to violence or advocacy of hatred.
Criticism of the Proposals
- The Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws attracted criticism when it was formed last year, as many feared a hurried process without adequate and wide consultation.
- Some lawyers and activists said it was not inclusive and questioned its ability to gather a wide range of opinion in the midst of a pandemic.
- While such points of criticism remain, it appears that the panel would go ahead and make its recommendations soon.
Mould your thought: What is hate speech? Identify the issues involved in regulating hate speech in India.
Approach to the answer:
- Define hate speech in general
- Mention how hate speech is regulated in India at present
- Discuss the problems with the present system
- Briefly discuss the proposals of various committees on the subject